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Nick Perry
Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s new governor-general said Thursday she plans to reach out to people marginalized by issues like homelessness, addiction and discrimination.

Cindy Kiro, Maori, is the first Indigenous woman appointed to the role as the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in the South Pacific nation. She took her oath in both Maori and English when she was sworn in to a five-year term.

She emphasized the need to build community spirit through outreach and said she wants to celebrate society’s unsung heroes.

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

Kiro, 63, has had a long career advocating for children. She was given the honorific Dame for her services to the community and says she hopes to inspire Maori girls.

“We are living through a period of immense uncertainty and anxiety,” Kiro said. “And I wish to acknowledge those in Auckland, and all around the country, who continue to face disruptions caused by COVID-19.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recalled being impressed by Kiro when they first met at Massey University after Ardern sought Kiro’s advice on child wellbeing.

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“Alongside her patience in response to my many questions, it was Dame Cindy’s compassion, knowledge and focus that stood out to me,” Ardern said. “She was passionate about what she was doing then and she has remained so, in every single endeavor.”

Kiro’s role is largely ceremonial. Under New Zealand’s constitutional system, the British monarch remains the nation’s head of state although doesn’t wield any real day-to-day power.

Kiro has said her mixed Maori and British heritage have helped give her a good understanding of New Zealand history and the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document signed by Maori and British.

Kiro grew up in humble circumstances and said her career had been driven by a sense of the importance of service.

Many question the relevance of Britain’s monarchy in modern New Zealand society.

Ardern said earlier this year she believes New Zealand will one day become a republic, but she doesn’t get a sense that people urgently want change, and so the issue hasn’t been a priority for her government.

Kiro takes over the role from Patsy Reddy, who is also a Dame.

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