WELLINGTON, Oct.21 (Reuters) – New Zealand’s first indigenous Maori woman to be appointed Governor General, Dame Cindy Kiro, was officially sworn in in Parliament in Wellington on Thursday, pledging to reach out to migrants and marginalized citizens .

Addressing a small audience at the swearing-in ceremony, Dame Cindy said she was proud of her dual Maori and British heritage. The Governor General exercises constitutional and ceremonial functions in the former British colony on behalf of the British monarch, who remains the country’s official head of state.

“Communities develop their resilience when people feel connected, have a sense of belonging and have a place to hang out,” Dame Cindy said in a speech at the ceremony.

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“I will connect with new migrants and former refugees, and celebrate the many diverse cultures and religions offered to our nation by those who have chosen to make New Zealand their home,” she said.

Many Maori, who make up around 17% of New Zealand’s population, are still socially and economically disadvantaged.

New Zealand Governor General-designate Dame Cindy Kiro (left) and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern walk together in Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand on May 24, 2021. Photo taken on May 24, 2021. Image AAP / Ben Mckay via REUTERS

Maori are overrepresented in criminal justice and health statistics, and the majority of children who end up in state care come from the community. Thousands of Maori took to the streets in 2019 to demand social justice and land rights.

Dame Cindy had an academic career and held leadership positions at several New Zealand universities. She holds a doctorate in social policy and an MBA (Exec) in business administration from the University of Auckland and Massey University, and was the first in her family to earn a university degree.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the appointment of Dame Cindy in a speech during the swearing-in ceremony.

“I know that as the first Maori woman to hold this position, you realize that your opportunity here is also an inspiration that extends to many people from all walks of life,” said Ardern.

The prime minister has named the most diverse parliament in the country after securing a second term as prime minister last year, including a high number of women among lawmakers.

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Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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