Last year's lockdown presented a unique opportunity to engage men through te Ao Māori in the high-security Unit 2 at Auckland Prison. With most of the men usually involved in Offender Employment, kitchen, or laundry activities, the extended Auckland COVID-19 lockdown presented new challenges and a need for activities to occupy the men’s time, as well as something to look forward to.
The door to sharing Māori language and heritage was opened with an idea to create a welcoming space for any Māori men to come and learn about their culture.
SCO Jack Tuheke, along with a man in the unit, had a shared vision to form a kura, facilitated by peers and SCO Tuheke. They named the kura, which was open to anyone, Te Kotahitanga (one people). A group of 11 men from all backgrounds agreed to take part.
After work and weekends, the men started coming together six days a week, to hone their te reo, waiata, and kapa haka skills.
Unit staff were also invited to participate in the kura. Staff learned basic karakia and to write and present their own pepeha. “The men welcomed our staff involvement, which in turn built further rapport,” says Jack.
As the end of 2021 approached, the kura organised an in-house end-of-the-year exam. All men passed the exam with high achievement scores, and to acknowledge and celebrate their efforts, staff organised a graduation ceremony on 10 December.
On graduation day, men in the ropu demonstrated their te reo skills through individual pepeha as well as waiata and kapa haka. As they received their graduation certificate one by one, they shared what they have gained through this course. Some enjoyed the sense of achievement, camaraderie, or simply the opportunity to celebrate being Māori.
One man shared his experience of knowing nothing about his identity and roots as Māori. Through this course, he realised the depth and his true origins in te ao Māori. Being fascinated by this, he now tries to share the knowledge with his new-born child during AVL whānau visits.
“As a relatively new corrections officer I feel honoured to be a part of this incredible journey,” says CO Jay Kwon. “Seeing the men committing and nourishing their identity and culture, I could see the difference this made in them. For me, this is what Hōkai Rangi is about - Māori being Māori.”
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