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Hunting, fishing . . . and healing

Travis Tawera knows firsthand the darkness of suicide and depression. But he found a pathway to healing by providing kai for his whanau and community, and being in the outdoors. Now the Waipiro Bay hunter gatherer wants to share this with other men who are struggling, as Shaan Te Kani discovers.

At the humble whare of Travis Tawera, the worries of the world just seem to float away. No power. No phone coverage. No internet.

An outdoor bath overlooking Waipiro Bay. A boil-up pot on a wood burner stove, and hunting trophies galore.

This is “living off the grid”. And it is this lifestyle and environment that has been a valuable tool in helping Travis through his own struggles with suicide, depression and mental health.

It is no secret that the suicide rate among Maori men is at the highest that it has been in a decade.

So in a bid to help other men, Travis has opened his home and heart to support them, through his passion for hunting, fishing, diving, gathering kai, and being in the outdoors.

An event that absolutely rocked his life, was when he lost his sister Faenza to suicide 10 years ago.

He blamed himself for her passing, and it took him into a dark space.

“It was something really hard. I really blame myself for her passing,” says Travis.

“The day before she died she came to see me. She knocked on my door, she was told I wasn’t home. But I was home, I was just asleep.

“She was coming to reach out to me. I wasn’t there for her.

“I was always there for her, except for this time when she really needed me the most.

“I blamed everyone, myself mainly. But I blamed everyone that loved me. I pushed them all away.

“I didn’t listen to no one. I had this big weight on my shoulders and I didn’t really know what to do.

“I wanted to end my own life, which for me I thought would have helped. I would’ve lost all of that stress.

“I went for a walk in the bush one day. I had nothing but a rope in my pack. I was going to hang myself.

“I was lying in the ngahere (forest) looking up to heaven and I thought about my first experience with suicide.

“That was when one of my good mates passed away, Charlie, he hung himself.

“I went to some really dark places with that as well.

‘Amazing feeling being able to help others’“One thing I really remember was that my Dad told me, if I ever did that he would spit on my grave.

“I was just blown away by that, and it made me think ‘whoa my Dad said that to me’.

“It made me sad but it also made me realise that there was more for me here in life.”

He used all of that reflection and thought, and came up with a different plan for his life.

“I was hunting everyday, fishing, out gathering kai, sharing it around with all of the whanau here in Waipiro Bay. And it gave me a warm feeling.

“There are all of these elders who can’t go out anymore. They really appreciated the kai that I was getting them, which made me feel good.

“And I thought wow, I can do this. This is what I want to do, this is what I need to do.

“I was growing my own vegetables, out hunting, fishing, diving everyday.

“I got out of those dark places and I had found my happy place, which was wicked.”

Now it’s time to share that with other brothers out there who are suffering, says Travis.

“It’s not easy for them to talk. Some of them feel that it makes them look weak. Just to talk.

“This is what I’m offering here on my whenua. I want to reconnect them back with their ancestors, reconnect them back with the whenua, and the old-school way of life.

“We don’t have power, phone service or internet here.

“Everything we do here has helped me in so many ways. I just want to be able to share that with other like-minded brothers out there.”

The name of his kaupapa is Te Ora I Te Wairua, which means “keeping our spirits alive”.

“Which is exactly what I want to do, is keep our spirits alive,” says Travis.

“I want to let them know it’s all good to talk, it’s all good to cry. You’re not weak if you cry.

“I actually look at people who cry as someone who is really brave, and they are a really strong person.”

Travis has already started taking online registrations through his Facebook page Ngati Providers Kai Mo Te Tepu.

“I started the page last year. With everything I do around the whenua, I was doing it for years before I started the page. But I didn’t have a phone or camera. I wasn’t capturing any of it.

“But sitting around with the whanau, just talking about different hunts, and the different things that I had seen, they were like ‘wow cuzzie, you should be videoing all of this and sharing it with the world’.

“That’s pretty much how that came about — Ngati Providers.

“It’s about providing kai for the whanau. Teaching our younger ones as well, because when I’m old and can’t go out anymore, my kids, that will be them, feeding us.”

Travis uploaded a video onto the Ngati Providers Facebook page last month about his kaupapa, Te Ora O Te Wairua, and it has received a massive amount of positive feedback.

“I’ve had so much support. From All Blacks to NRL players, well-known hunters, TV presenters and actors. The list goes on.

“I’m so grateful. I love that I have all of their tautoko and support.

“I’ve run the programme about four times, without even knowing it. It just happened with mates and even with people I’ve never met before. I offered them to come here.

“Just while we’re out doing activities they’ve opened up to me in different ways. And I realise we are all in the same boat.

“It’s these sorts of things in the outdoors, such as Tangaroa (the sea) and the ngahere (the forest). It can just take your mind off everything and the town life.

“Whatever you’re going through, it could be bullying, or you’ve broken up with your partner. I like to leave that stress out in the bush, and in Tangaroa.

“We have bonfires underneath the stars, horse riding and surfing. There are so many more things to do than just hunting.

“I also want to teach them how to grow their own vegetables, native trees and fruit trees, and cut wood. And share it out with the community and get that warm feeling of helping the whanau keep warm, especially now in the winter.”

Travis believes the outdoors is an ideal environment for healing, a natural environment.

“I grew up in Wellington and returned to Waipiro Bay, where my mum is from, to get away from town life, city life and trouble.

“I had to do counselling which was really awkward for me. You’re sitting here and you’ve got a person sitting there writing down all of these notes and you don’t know what they’re thinking.

“With this kaupapa, I’m going away from that. It’s outdoors. We’re planting vegetables and we’re talking at the same time. We’re fishing and we’re talking at the same time. Which is beautiful, I’ve had bros open up to me, tell me their life stories.

“It’s such an amazing feeling being able to help others.”

Travis says he has been blessed with a supportive whanau to enable him to do this mahi.

“I have a son Hunter, he is nine months, and my daughter Shanti is nine years old.

“We have a few birthdays in October, which is usually a month where we just come up here and kick back, and enjoy that quality family time.

“We have our own home in Gisborne, but I spend a lot of time up here.

“My partner is doing so much for us, for our kids. And I thank her so much for the sacrifice that we had to make so I could be here to help other brothers.”


OUTDOOR HEALING: Travis Tawera is reaching out to help men struggling with mental health through his passion for the outdoors. Pictures by Liam Clayton
NGATI PROVIDER: Travis says it’s a good feeling providing kai from the land and sea for his whanau.
HOME AND HEART: Inside the home of Travis Tawera is a wall completely covered in photos of his whanau, his tamariki. A reminder of what keeps his spirit alive.