Te taiao (nature) inspires young Ngāti Toa hearts and minds

Porirua rangatahi are sitting in a class clapping each other’s achievements – one has passed their license, another’s in final year nursing, a 15-year-old’s returning to college and someone else is off to polytech.

Published: Rātū, 30 Poutūterangi, 2021 | Tuesday, 30 March 2021

The room cheers when the tutor congratulates a girl for landing a parttime KFC job. “No discounts,” she quips, and everyone laughs. 

These young people who weren’t in jobs or training are finding new opportunities through the Paria te Tai (the changing tide) initiative. It is run by Ngāti Toa for their own young people with a focus on connecting to the local environment.

The course is part of Te Puni Kōkiri programme Pae Aronui which is delivered in five urban centres nationally to test innovative approaches that improve education, employment, or training outcomes for Māori 15–24-year-olds that were not employed or studying.

Ngāti Toa General Manager Education and Employment Bianca Elkington says they developed Paria te Tai because the environment was both a growing area their iwi needed support with and an area rangatahi were interested in.

“The first part focussed on getting our rangatahi work ready or into further education and phase two is about connecting them to their whenua as Ngāti Toa. One of the things the rangatahi had in common was that thirst for understanding who they are and their place in Te Taiao (the environment),” she says.

The approach is working, with 15 of the 20 Ngāti Toa rangatahi now in employment including Leland Ruelu who is pursuing his passion for nature through a Department of Conservation job on Mana Island.

Te Puni Kōkiri Regional Manager Te Tai Hauāuru, Jess Smith, says Pae Aronui is changing rangatahi lives through innovative and culturally grounded approaches.

“What’s particularly special about Paria te Tai though, is its iwi designing solutions for their own whānau and centring it on the environment kaupapa that’s meaningful to them,” she says.  

21-year-old Riria Solomon is the youngest of 10 kids and says before starting the course she was finding life tough.

“I was babied as the youngest but then I had my first baby when I was 14 and I struggled - so my Mum stepped in. But after that I was getting into trouble, I was in and out of home and living on the streets.”

“The tutors have given me heaps of support, they made me think about my future and helped me find a house. Best is I’ve got my daughter back through the course, my other baby, and I’m just so grateful,” she says.    

The Paria te Tai group are learning a Te Ao Māori view of the environment from fishing to harvesting harakeke. Visiting places like Mana Island and Kāpiti Island marine reserve is teaching them about nature, their whakapapa ties to those places, and the role of iwi as kaitiaki (guardians) of the land and waterways.

Bianca says working for your own on an iwi-led kaupapa means the failings of a western model of engagement can now be remedied through a more appropriate indigenous approach.

“We just don’t have the same barriers - as it is now about whakapapa. Often the school system has let our rangatahi down, which is not a surprise because it was not set up with them in mind. For our rangatahi, some are ready for work and some need some extra support and guidance. Whatever it is, if there’s a barrier it’s our job to find a solution to remove it.”

For Riria, her interest is in baking and after helping her Mum do catering at their marae, she likes the idea of a business doing kids parties for whānau.

“I’ve found a course in pastries and baking. I’m so excited and I start on my birthday so hopefully I’ll make me a cake,” she says.


Photo caption 1: Riria Solomon of Ngāti Toa Rangatira is learning environmental Māori practices such as harvesting harakeke while being supported into training and employment through the iwi run Paria te Tai programme in Porirua.