With every passing generation, rangatahi (younger people) are at risk of moving further and further away from tikanga Maori. Southland’s Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Trust has launched a service to allow those who have experienced or been impacted by drugs and alcohol to reconnect with their culture, rediscover who they are and find healing. Abbey Palmer talked with those behind Te Waka Tuhono.
Described by her colleagues as "the vision" behind Te Waka Tuhono, Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Trust founder Tracey Wright-Tawha says the "excellence and te ao Maori knowledge" of the programme’s leaders played a big part in getting 15 young Maori to graduation in Invercargill last week.
"They’re [leaders] planting the seed for change, igniting the flame for learning and providing a cultural framework for people to sort of grow into, that is innately who we are, that’s the magic of this programme."
Traditionally, addiction issues were dealt with by identifying there was a problem and linking the individual with a counsellor to work through those issues, Ms Wright-Tawha said.
Nga Kete recognised, for Maori whanau in particular, bringing about sustainable change came from connecting people back to who they were "in terms of their Maori self".
"When you consider that a number of whanau no longer speak te reo or are no longer involved in marae settings as such — whilst there is a cultural renaissance under way and renewed commitment to learning our ways and language, we also understand for many, there has been an erosion of learning and a loss or a breaking-down of the cultural fabric that holds us strong.
"We’ve decided to design and develop a service approach that restores that."
Manukura (leader) Joe and kaiawhina (assistant) Janette Clarke were part of the group who recently took rangatahi to Te Koawa Turoa o Takitimu, a 400 hectare restoration site managed by Oraka Aparima Runaka (Ngai Tahu).
There they hosted a hui with the whanau, and rangatahi engaged in a marae-based powhiri process before they set off on a camp.
Rangatahi were challenged with a range of activities aimed at building teamwork and connectivity, all through a cultural lens, including karakia (prayer), waiata (song), waka ama (outrigger canoe) and kapa haka.
Ms Wright-Tawha said the duo worked to instil "confidence and competence" in the participants in a cultural setting.
"Janette is the ultimate camp mother, she’s a carer and a nurturer and provides a wahine touch. Joe is a strong tane figure, young people see that and it’s like a magnet."
In Maori culture, people’s wellbeing was not singular and the whole family was taken on the journey, she said.
"We’ve had parents say, and this makes my heart sing, ‘you’ve given me my child back’ or ‘my boy is smiling again’."
For Mr Clarke, it was about having the ability to reconnect rangatahi to the whenua (land) — the lifeblood which sustained Maori, as it had for those who came before them and as it would for those who come after them, he said.
"We do not dilute our tikanga, our culture, we try and do it to the best of our ability every time. If it’s a waiata, it’s a waiata done with the upmost mana and respect that it deserves."
He recalled a conversation he had had with the parents of a young boy on the programme: "He went from not wanting to be here at all to putting his chin up and holding his head high at the table."
Mrs Clarke spoke of an experience she had with a young girl who had never finished the schooling system but wanted to be an air hostess.
"She said to me, ‘I’m gonna be the first one in my whanau to finish school whaea (term of respect for wahine/women)’."
Since starting back at school this year, she had not missed a single day, despite health complications, she said.
"It’s not a job to us, we live and breathe it and that’s what we are, we are here."
Programme counsellor Elton Hakopa, who provided one-on-one sessions for participants, said it was about making rangatahi believe in their potential and helping them to "unleash it".
"It’s a privilege to be a part of the team, we are all very in tune with each other.
"It’s an honour to be a part of their growth and to watch rangatahi flourish and bloom."
Christchurch-based Hemi Te Hemi’s role was to carry out an independent evaluation of the programme and use research to quantify the value and impact of the programme.
"We’ve captured some beautiful korero (conversation) and we want to be able to share the mana (spirit) of this programme nationally and internationally."
Te Waka Tuhono would take in its third group of rangatahi for the next programme which was due to start in late March.
Ms Wright-Tawha said the initiative would continue to be developed through guidance from a kaumatua (advisory/Maori leader) group.
"Te Waka Tuhono is an example of Maori led tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) and an understanding and belief in our own ability to lead positive change for our whanau."
Ms Wright-Tawha said while during Lockdown Levels 3 and 4 the trust focused on providing its essential services, Te Waka Tuhono would be up and running again during Level 2.
"Under Level 2 where we can maintain social distancing and good hygiene and sanitising and so forth, we will move back into that programme."
For more information about the Te Waka Tuhono, phone (03) 214 5260 or 0800 925 242.