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Healing through Papatuanuku

TAKING whanau into the bush has helped changed lives in Tairawhiti thanks to Waikirikiri School's wellbeing initiative.

Tui Keenan, a former police officer, works at Waikirikiri School as part of their wellbeing team. Her role focuses on working with whanau to create better outcomes.

Mrs Keenan used to work in the family harm space in her previous job but found that more often than not, she would end up in front of a computer.

“Computers don't energise me, whanau do,” she said.

When a job came up for a Wellness teacher at Waikirikiri School, despite not having a teaching degree, Mrs Keenan applied.

While she was not successful in getting that role, the principal of Waikirikiri School, Yolanda Julies, rang and offered her an opportunity to work holistically with whanau and fill in the gap where the system was failing families.

One of the first things Mrs Keenan asked was “can I take them hunting and fishing?”

The answer was yes.

Mrs Keenan started organising in February to take whanau into the bush and use her skills as a hunter to connect with nature.

She got in contact with Sam Gibson, NZ Landcare Trust's East Coast catchments co-ordinator and one of the founders of the Eastern Whio Link, a biodiversity project aimed at protecting and increasing the populations of whio/blue duck in the Waioeka.

“From an Eastern Whio Link perspective we are grateful to be given this opportunity to have a biodiversity project be a vehicle for creating social change and wellbeing for our whanau. It is incredible what the bush can do to heal whanau,” Mr Gibson said.

Mrs Keenan said taking whanau into the bush changes their lives.

“Some have never done it before, others might have some experience from their parents taking them into the bush as children, but overall they aren't used to it,” she said.

“Ora (health) is the focus of being in the bush. It is what Sam and I do. Kai Maori, connection with papatuanuku, connecting back with the land. Most have never done that before.”

One woman who went along on the hikoi had never done a river crossing or ever touched the Waioeka before.

“It opens up their eyes to what is out there.”

They are now planning to return to the bush with their own families to share what they have experienced.

Mrs Keenan works with whanau of students that Waikirikiri School identify as facing obstacles or challenges with schooling. The Waikirikiri team focus not only on the child but the whole whanau.

“This is about supporting our whanau at home. It's not education,” Mrs Keenan said.

The first group to go into the bush with Mrs Keenan were mostly Waikirikiri women who had never done something like this.

“Some turned up in jandals, one had a picnic basket,” Mrs Keenan said.

“It was an incredible opportunity to connect with the kaupapa Sam is doing. Seeing the impact on the first trip made me want to do it every month. Each time I've asked Sam it is always ‘yes, yes, yes' — he gets it.”

Those who have gone on the hikoi have loved it.

They have not shot any deer yet as sometimes just walking the track to the hut, learning about kai in the forest and fishing can be enough for the crew.

“They love it. There is heaps of laughing and funny conversations going on. I don't tell them what to do, I go in with no intentions.”

Mrs Keenan is also the Gisborne representative for Building Awesome Whanau. She has taken one session of the programme into the bush, which everyone on the hikoi loved.

Renee Reedy, one of the people who has taken part in the initiative said this kaupapa is precious to her heart.

Ms Reedy raised two of her grandchildren and they attend Waikirikiri School.

“I went to a meet-the-teachers evening and that's where I met Tui. She asked me if I would like to go bush and I jumped at the chance.”

Ms Reedy couldn't believe she was being asked to go into the bush as a 50-year-old.

“I had longed for this since I was a young girl in Ruatoria. I had experienced the bush with my father. I would help him do fencing at the base of Hikurangi and Aorangi. My life changed when I left Ruatoria.”

She has been raising her mokopuna for the last four years. She worked six days a week but after her trip into the bush she realised things had to change.

“I didn't realise I had been so empty for so many years. I had a little flame left and I was just surviving. Doing this hikoi ignited that flame to a point where I felt alive and in touch with papatuanuku, ranginui, the ngahere. I felt free for the first time in 35 years.”

Ms Reedy hopes others who get offered the chance to be a part of this mahi take up the opportunity.

“It is an amazing experience that I won't ever forget,” she said.

For more information on this mahi visit the Te Kura Reo Rua O Waikirikiri Spoto Facebook Group.

CHANGING LIVES: In her role with the wellness team at Waikirikiri School, Tui Keenan takes whanau into the bush to connect with the land. Clockwise from front, Tui Keenan, Karolyn Johnson, Jodie Humphries, Sapphire Peachey, Kylie Karini, Henrietta King-Hazel, Renee Reedy, Darren Peters and Sam Gibson. Left, Renee Reedy describes the kaupapa as precious to her heart. Pictures supplied
GOING BUSH: Those who have gone on the hikoi with Tui have loved it. Front, from left, Tui Keenan, Jara Waaka, Ruby Graceson and Leecresha Witeri. Back, Eddie Adams, Chelsea Waaka and Morgan Hapu. Picture supplied
HIGHLIGHTING WELLBEING: Tui Keenan with Renee Reedy, one of the Waikirikiri women who has taken part in the wellbeing initiative. Picture supplied
CONNECTION WITH THE LAND: Renee Reedy describes the kaupapa as precious to her heart. Picture supplied