Te Pūkenga Atawhai is a course run by DOC for the specific purpose of enlightening its staff about Māori, Māori issues, Māori culture/beliefs, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the proper (tika) ways in which to conduct yourself when you interact with tangata whenua – See in our line(s) of work, we deal with tangata whenua all the time.
The course is run by Pou Kura Taiao – Indigenous Conservation Ethics Managers, who among other roles are ‘cultural advisors’ that work for the Department. The Pou are all extremely nice blokes (There is one female Pou who I’m led to believe is the rose amongst the thorns) exuding all sorts of mana. The Pou know way more than a thing or two about their culture.
I’m venturing forth from my secluded house in the Wellington ‘burbs, to sleep on a marae with a bunch of anonymous snorers on Arapaoa Marae in Waikawa, and learn about the Treaty amongst other things. And what should I expect? I’m really not quite sure…
Like I say, I truly didn’t know what to expect. I was on a ferry with about 4 people I knew from the Wellington office I work from, and I was about to join about 35 other strangers for a week on the Marae in Waikawa, which is very close to Picton in the Marlborough Sounds.
So I joined around forty of my esteemed colleagues, who were from Wellington, Nelson/Marlborough, Motueka, Reefton, Aoraki/Mt Cook, the NZ Fire Service and elsewhere. We arrived at Waikawa and were brought onto the Marae with a traditional powhiri (welcome). I’d seen powhiri before on the tele and stuff, but I’d never actually experienced one, let alone participated in one… ‘What do I do now?’ I’m wondering, the whole way through… But luckily Te Pūkenga Atawhai is one of those places where ignorance (read: naivety) isn’t shunned, rather it’s welcomed, and then if need be it’s corrected for you in the nicest way possible.
Te Pūkenga Atawhai comfortably takes people out of their comfort zones, and it’s a good thing. Each of us had the best part of a week to write our own mihi (greeting) completely in te reo māori. On the last day, each and every one of us got up in front of the whole group in the whare-nui, and delivered his or her mihi. The mihi was followed by a presentation of a taonga (treasure) by each person. Some people talked about their whanau at home, others spoke of their waka or another meaningful possession of theirs. Personally, I talked about my rhyme-book (I make Hip-Hop music) given to me by my Mother, and I thought that one of my conservation-themed verses would be appreciated by the group, so I performed a part of it after my mihi as my taonga. It has to be said that everyone did splendidly, with a task that certainly doesn’t come easily to non-speakers of te reo māori.
When I went to the marae, I already possessed this disconnected vocabulary of te reo māori that I didn’t really know what to do with. I was like: “So when do I say ‘ka pai’?” or “Why do we always sing a waiata after someone has spoken?” or even just “Why do I have to take my shoes off at the whare-nui?” Well now I know about all of that, thanks to DOC and the Pou. I knew about some words, like tu meke, whare, ka pai etc, but now I actually feel comfortable integrating te reo māori into my everyday language. Good times.
Of course, I know some people who boo-hoo the idea, like: “Maan what a waste of money, I can’t believe DOC’s actually paying for you to stay on a marae with the Maa-reys for a week…way to spend our taxes bro!”
Te Pūkenga Atawhai though, is no holiday. We left with our brains bursting with both fresh and ancient information, and also with the knowledge that probably, we would soon be putting this new information to use in each of our roles. Since treaty settlements began, we’ve had more and more to do with Māori, and if you look across the Department, we probably interact on a near-daily basis. Most of our core business at DOC will involve Māori at some time, and Te Pūkenga Atawhai goes a long way towards the strong relationships we now enjoy with iwi right across Aotearoa.
Te Pūkenga Atawhai seems to me, to be a pretty unique thing. I don’t hear about many other employers sending their staff to learn about Māori culture and how to deal with and relate to tangata whenua, but I suppose there aren’t too many Government Departments and indeed businesses that work with Iwi as much as we do. If any of you out there have had some similar experiences either with DOC or with any other sort of organisation then let us know. I’d be keen to hear about it, drop us a comment or any questions you’ve got.
Tou rourou, toku rourou, ka ora te Iwi.
(With your contribution and my contribution we will thrive.)
And cheers for reading 😀