Dame Cindy Kiro was sworn in as New Zealand’s governor general in parliament in Wellington on Thursday, becoming the first indigenous Maori woman to occupy a largely ceremonial role.

The Governor General performs a number of constitutional functions in the former British colony, including the official signing of bills and chairing many public ceremonies.

They act as the representative of the British monarch – who remains New Zealand’s official head of state.

After taking the oath in English and Te reo Maori, Kiro spoke about his mixed Maori and British heritage and vowed to reach out to migrants and marginalized citizens.

“Communities develop their resilience when people feel connected, have a sense of belonging and have a place to stand,” she said in a speech at the swearing-in ceremony.

“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,” said Kiro.

A champion of the indigenous language

In her speech, she also pledged to be a champion of the Te Reo Maori language.

“During my life, I have also seen a remarkable change in attitudes towards Te Reo Maori,” she said.

“It is a joy to see so many New Zealanders eager to learn the language, because it is by far the best portal to understand Te Ao Maori – and I will continue to try to defend it,” Kiro said.

Te Reo Maori became an official language of New Zealand in 1987, alongside English.

Maori are the largest ethnic minority in the country, accounting for 16.5% of the population. They remain both economically and socially disadvantaged.

What did the PM say?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the new Governor General in her speech.

“I know that as the first Maori woman to hold this position, you are aware that your opportunity here is also an inspiration which goes to great lengths to many people from all walks of life,” she said.

“I hope that when others follow in your footsteps, they won’t be as surprised as you were when I offered you the role,” said Ardern, news site Thing reported.

What more do we know about Cindy Kiro?

Kiro was previously CEO of the Royal Society, a nonprofit group that advocates for research.

She has also served as New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner and has held leadership positions at several universities.

She holds a doctorate. in social policy and an MBA from the University of Auckland and Massey University and was the first in her family to graduate from college.

Kiro succeeds Patsy Reddy, who had also received the honorary title of “Lady” for her service to the community.

adi / sri (Reuters, AP)