National | Te Reo Māori

Actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand to join Māori Language Commission


Acclaimed actress, singer and director Jennifer Ward-Lealand is to join Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission, sources tell

The Māori Language Commission is responsible for Maihi Karauna, the government’s strategy that tasks more than 200 public sector agencies with the support and promotion of te reo Māori.

Ward-Lealand’s commitment to the language was acknowledged in 2017 when she was gifted the name Te Atamira, which translates to “The Stage,” by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy.

Not of Māori descent, she began learning the language in 2008 after she couldn’t respond to a mihi received on a film set, saying later in interviews she was embarrassed about having been born in Aotearoa but not able to speak the language.

“I went ‘never again, never again’,” she said in a 2020 interview.

“In my heart I thought this is crazy, I was born here, this is an everyday tikanga,” she said.

Stage to small screen

Ward-Lealand’s career spans over four decades. A graduate of Auckland’s prestigious Theatre Corporate, she has showcased her versatility across multiple platforms - from the stage to the small screen.

Notable appearances include iconic shows like Shortland Street, Xena: Warrior Princess, The Almighty Johnsons, and in recent times, The Brokenwood Mysteries.

In 2019, Ward-Lealand was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for her exceptional services to theatre, film, and television. She also received the Woman of Influence Award in the arts and culture category.

In 2020 she was named as Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

Te Ao Māori news understands Minister for Māori Development, Willie Jackson, will announce Ward-Lealand’s appointment on Thursday.