Turning the Tide on Suicide is a three-part series by Justine Murray that looks into the issue of mental health awareness and how Māori communities and organisations address suicide.
This week we meet four others making a difference in their communities - Haley Grace-Hollis, Colin Taare, Matthew Tukaki and Ngahihi o te ra Bidois.
Part one featured Mike King and Bill Urale, aka King Kapisi.
Haley Grace-Hollis was born and raised in the small town of Tuparoa on the East Coast. She now works for Nati 4 Life Trust and has returned to her hometown to talk to young people about suicide awareness.
Haley speaks from personal experience. In the last year she lost three cousins who were more like brothers and in May she lost her sister – all to suicide.
Haley’s family has turned an incomprehensible whanau tragedy into a story of resilience, healing and knowledge sharing. Haley is adamant that people need to communicate with youth in language they understand.
“Well, from my perspective, I just think you need to be able to talk to them at their level and not at that professional level because that’s just a piece of paper with boxes that you tick and really you’re not getting deep enough to understand where we are coming from.”
Haley and members of her family travelled from Ruatoria to attend The World Indigenous Suicide Conference hosted by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Pikiao in Rotorua in June. Their goal was simple – to get some understanding around the issue, get some healing and take that back home.
The World Youth Summit was staged at the same time as the suicide conference and in front of around 150 young people Haley performed her song Dedicated.
Kaiti is a small suburb in Gisborne where the majority of people are Māori. Colin Taare is a truancy officer there who has strong links across the community, who has seen the impact of suicide even on his own family. He says it not only affects young people – who are it's most common face – but pakeke, (adults) too.
“Oftentimes it's parents having to deal with the grief and the tragedy of losing their children. For some it's children having to deal with the grief of losing the parent. In my mahi it’s about trying to support the whanau.”
Colin's t-shirt declares 'Ka Pai Kaiti' – the name of a charitable trust which runs projects to improve the health and wellbeing of the community. As part of their awareness programme the trust hosted their first concert last year, another is planned for September in Ruatoria.
Matthew Tukaki has lived in Australia for 16 years, but has been on a bit of a whirlwind adventure in Aotearoa recently, travelling with The Key to Life Charitable Trust and youth advocate Mike King.
In his role as the Chairman of Australia’s National Coalition for the Prevention of Suicide, Matthew is all about sharing stories but more importantly, he says, listening to young people. He advocates resilience building and spreading hope to communities.
“I’m a big fan of disruption – disruption in terms of 'let’s look at something differently', everything we’ve been doing in suicide prevention mostly. If it was working we wouldn’t be at this conference, we wouldn’t be losing the people we love. So we’ve got to try new things and we’ve got to be open-minded about that.”
Matthew grew up in Upper Hutt, but his iwi and hapu (tribal area) is on Matakana Island. Matthew is keen to get young people thinking, to hear their ideas and tap into their potential.
“My primary message has been one of hope, aspiration and opportunity. Of course, my second big message is simply its OK to fail. Through failure comes the learning of lessons”.
Ngahihi o te ra Bidois
When Ngahihi o te ra Bidois first heard the term 'mallowpuff' in reference to a Māori person who is brown on the outside and white on the inside, something shifted in him. Others around him laughed, but he buried his face in his hands and cried uncontrollably. The year was 1987.
From that moment on, with the support of his wife, Ngahi decided to learn his language, become a qualified teacher, and consciously walk a pathway towards his taha Māori (heritage).
In his book Ancient Wisdom, Modern Solution, Ngahi uses his life as an example of facing the odds and carrying on. He writes openly about turning his back on his culture for years before making the decision to take his place at his marae in Awahou. Ngahi’s kuia Nanny Riini was influential in his life and encouraged him to pursue education.
“One of the Māori proverbs [Nanny Riini] said was 'Na te whakaaro ka ora te tangata - the thought creates the person.' And she would hug me and say 'You know what, Moko? It doesn’t matter what anyone else says about you, the most important thing is what you think about yourself'.”