11 Dec 2016

Heremaia Harawira on a mission in his community

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:05 pm on 11 December 2016
Heremaia Harawira no Ngati Awa, Ngai te Rangi.

Heremaia Harawira no Ngati Awa, Ngai te Rangi. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Community Action Youth and Drugs (CAYAD) facilitator Heremaia Harawira is tackling some tough problems in his community in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, one in particular is youth accessing drugs and alcohol left at urupa (burial plots).

People leave tokens of remembrance at headstones, but Harawira says some of the things left include alcohol, drugs, drug paraphernalia, cigarettes and he’s even come across bullets.

Harawira works at Te Tohu o Te Ora o Ngati Awa (Ngāti Awa Social and Health services) in Whakatane.

“This is in my research, I suppose it doesn’t resonate with people until I tell them and then they think about it…but it’s sort of in your blind spot if you don’t know about it.”

The leaving of dangerous items at urupa was brought to Harawira’s attention after he saw a girl using a meth pipe as a wand to blow bubbles. She had picked up the tool at an urupa.  

“I’ve been to most of our marae to tell them 'hey this is what’s happening, there are things that are being left in our urupa that are not safe for our kids'.”

Leaving items on gravestones is a practise that Harawira says is something a lot of people do as a way to honour the dead, he says card players would pay homage to one of their fellow players by leaving a deck of cards and a bottle whiskey at the grave.

Marae urupa are maintained by local families, and Harawira says it shouldn’t be the responsibility of those families who mow the lawns to also have to take those things left behind, instead those items shouldn’t be brought in in the first instance. One possible solution he says is signs at the urupa gates people asking not to bring in those things.

Heremaia with the rangatahi of the Youth Leaders Group.

Heremaia with the rangatahi of the Youth Leaders Group. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

The CAYAD programme was established in 1997 and piloted in six communities in 1998 and from 2001 The Ministry of Health began funding it.

As part of that programme, Harawira and his team are looking at creating safe environments around alcohol, for example changing post-match drinking habits at rugby clubs.

“The environment that our kids are in today is totally different… part of CAYAD too is to modify environments…I mean I took big boxes of peanuts to our rugby clubs one time and said to them, can you just put bowls of peanuts in the changing rooms.”

Harawira was born and raised in Whakatane but has links to Tauranga Moana through his father, as part of this daily work routine he and the staff at Te Tohu o Te Ora O Ngati Awa have daily Karakia and Waiata. The work location is adjacent to the outdoors adventure course Adventure SoluntioNZ the commercial arm of the organisation. 

The office is located on an ancestral site that during the NZ Land Wars was used as a training ground by Ngāti Awa ancestor Irapeke. Harawira says the history of the land was essentially about preparing to kill, now it's the opposite and is about promoting health and wellbeing.

Dotted around the site is what Harawira describes as spiritual cues. There are two carved pou near the entrance way of two women representing karakia (prayers) and karanga (welcome call).

"When you step into our main office you are getting karakia bestowed upon you spiritually.”