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Celebrating Puanga: Reclaiming Mātauranga and Healing Our Whānau

Updated: Jun 27

Last year we spoke with Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata, Mātaiwhetu (CEO) for Te Oranganui Trust before she left to go to Vancouver for an international indigenous gathering ‘Healing our Spirit Worldwide’ and she made a profound statement: 

“If we train young minds, young leaders around the work of Healthy Families, around strategic leadership around co-design, as opposed to governance, which means that you have to meaningfully go out and have conversations with an array of people. Learning those skills. I want to see that amongst someone from every one of our marae. Every one of our hapū. Every one of our kaupapa kōrero. I just think there's this whole other potential and capacity that is a part of movement building, that I think is the next challenge for Healthy Families”. 

This statement serves as the theme for our kōrero this month, looking at the unique approach that Healthy Families has. The framework that governs our practices especially within the area of Mātauranga Maori and how it is interwoven throughout all our initiatives and how this relates to our celebration of Puanga. 

While much of the nation embraces Matariki, our communities in Whanganui, Ruapehu, and Taranaki celebrate Puanga. Known as Rigel, Puanga shines brightly as the guiding star for the iwi of Te Tai Hauāuru, marking the Māori new year as winter begins in Aotearoa.

For Māori, observing the stars and the moon was integral to daily life, informing activities like fishing, planting, and understanding the environment. Ceremonies honoured the stars and their significance, acknowledging the changes they heralded.

Celebrating Puanga is not just festive; it's about reclaiming cultural identity and community healing. Innovation is deeply rooted in our heritage, evident in our ancestors' courage as stargazers and navigators. Their journeys of self-discovery and learning inspire us to reflect on their wisdom.

Puanga is more than just a star; it's a beacon guiding us to rediscover lost mātauranga. Celebrating Puanga honours our ancestors' legacy and embraces our journey towards holistic health and wellbeing.

At Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu, we use this time to reset, reflect, and recognise the value of community, aligning with our commitment to innovation. 

Recently, Te Hoeroa rangatahi graduated with over 100 whānau members and community participants in attendance. The rangatahi kaupapa Te Hoeroa ki Tū Manawa Ora concluded after seven months of deep bonding, exploration, and empowerment. The journey, which started from the mountains to sea and ended at Te Ao Hou Marae, symbolises their preparation to navigate life's challenges.

Our Early Years for Child Health and Wellbeing Initiative, Mokopuna Ora, is resetting and looking towards designing a future for our pēpi. They are running a series of sessions to co-design the hāpori (community), vision, and priorities for the future of our mokopuna. Their contributions can create meaningful change and help inform a Regional Early Years Strategy.

Looking ahead, the Growing Collective Wellbeing Strategy is set to prototype interventions to reverse the impact of toxic stress on pēpi and rangatahi. Additionally, an integrated service partnership between Mental Health & AOD Te Oranganui and Te Whatu Ora Whanganui has been successfully prototyped, demonstrating the value of more joined-up services. The “Art of a Great Referral” has been prototyped and successfully tested. We are now preparing to scale this approach with other sectors, highlighting the strategy's potential for long-term, sustainable impact. 

Embracing Traditional Knowledge for Modern Solutions

Being in the grey areas of uncertainty can be uncomfortable, but it also provides an opportunity to seek clarity and understanding. By looking back at our history, we ask ourselves: “What were the environments like when we were well and healthy?” Through this reflection, several truths have become clear.

Pai ake te kore i te korekore. Pai ake te korekore i te kore rawa atu - (Better to have little than nothing. Better to have nothing than absolutely nothing): Innovation involves acknowledging that our thinking doesn't always have to be expressed through writing. Art and creativity are heavily encouraged, as they play a crucial role in design thinking and innovation. For Māori, art is more than just a form of expression; it is a way of connecting with our culture, tūpuna, and the taiao (environment). Art allows us to visualise and conceptualise ideas in unique ways, often leading to innovative solutions that may not have been possible through traditional written communication alone.

E puta i te paepae waho o tō whare - (Allow yourself to go out of your comfort zone): In our community, classrooms extend beyond buildings; our rangatahi thrive in Te Taiao (the natural world), learning from forests, rivers, and land. We challenge traditional gender roles, recognising that historically, Pāpā were not just providers in their whānau they were nurturers. We reject harmful practices like smoking, understanding that ‘Smoking is not in our whakapapa’. 

Whāngaia te kūmete - (Feed the bowl of knowledge): We all contribute to the sharing of knowledge, this is not a one way transfer. We value every voice in our community, honouring those who share their time, ideas, experiences, and aspirations with whanaungatanga, koha and kai. This tikanga (custom) of reciprocity maintains balance within our community, ensuring that all voices are not just captured but honoured. We also have a history of employing those who contribute to our villages. For example,

Rangatahi Systems Innovator Lae Katene-Rogan started working with us in the Pāpā Village. He offered his experiences, ideas, and aspirations, and we later employed him as a Rangatahi Systems Innovator. He now leads a Rangatahi Design Village where their ideas are starting to be realised. The Rangatahi Design Village has progressed from discussing healthy and unhealthy relationships to reimagining their community spaces. They aim to nurture healthy relationships, connections, and cultural identity. The knowledge of design has started to make more sense individually as they see how their own lived experiences can be incorporated into designing, discussion, and prevention solutions.

Kia kite koe i toku rawenga, i taku pōkai awheawhe… - (For you will see the best in me when we work together in unison): Everyone, regardless of age or status, has value in our village model, which honours every story, from pēpi (babies) to tāne (men), rangatahi, academics, builders, professionals, and creatives. Guided by the Maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), we follow the moon and stars for planting, harvest, rest, and activity, understanding behaviours and forecasting prevention solutions for challenges like suicide. This framework allows for proactive solutions, emphasising prevention over reaction.

The journey to reclaiming our mātauranga and embracing our true selves is challenging, especially within a system that has long favoured Western perspectives. However, through this courageous reclamation, we can heal as a people, becoming whole without feeling alienated or inferior, and breaking down barriers that prevent us from growing and improving our lives where we live, learn, work, and play. Celebrating Puanga allows us to honour our past, embrace our present, and look forward to a future where our cultural heritage is not just preserved but actively lived and celebrated. 

As we navigate this journey, let’s remember the wisdom of our tūpuna and the importance of community. Together, we can reclaim our mātauranga and create a space for intergenerational healing and wellbeing.


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