Nerissa Henry’s interest in politics started once she understood the connection between what is happening around her and how she could help make a change in her community.
Born and raised in East Auckland, Henry is of Cook Islands Maori, New Zealand Maori, Native American and English descent.
It is through her mother’s father, Rea Kautai, that links her to the Cook Islands.
In 2013 Henry signed up as a New Zealand Labour Party member and won her first Local Government election onto the Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board in 2016.
From observing through service to her community, she realised that she fitted into the Labour Party mould.
“Over the years being involved, it has absolutely been the best choice,” she said.
This year, she is the Labour candidate contesting the Pakuranga seat – a big challenge considering the seat has not been held by any other party other than National since 1972.
She spends her time doing what she calls “a lot of homework”.
“On top knowing my community as a local, there are many stats and data you need to know to better understand the area.
“The dynamics, the family structure, schools and most importantly the local issues, reading through the Local Board Plan for the area and also understanding our history of the area more.”
Henry attends lots of meetings and is now starting to gear up for all the physical work that a campaign demands, such as building a volunteer base.
But being a great mum to her two children is Henry’s number one motivation.
She didn’t want to be “just another statistic in the system” being a young, brown mother and university drop out, she said.
“The discrimination can really set you back and make you question your worth,” she said.
In the political world, Henry said she is grateful for her incredible Labour mentor, Carol Beaumont.
“She introduced me to many amazing MPs including Cook Islander Poto Williams who I’ve had the pleasure getting to know more over the years and who holds portfolios that are very close to my heart, my life experiences and the community work I do,” she said.
If service to the community and working for the people are things you’re passionate about, Henry encourages young Cook Islanders to get involved in politics.
“You learn so much about the way we are governed, and the rules and laws that are set in place for us and by participating you get to be part of that process,” she said.
“I’m a real strong believer in succession planning and always looking forward to when young people get involved in amazing movements like politics, we need to be raising up and empowering the next generation.”