Up in Northland, an innovative programme called ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ is building on the strengths of youth culture to get young people active. The ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ programme engages the youth in dance (hip hop and other contemporary and cultural styles), as well as in Nga Mahi Tuu Taua, ancient Maori weaponry.
‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ aims to increase the level of physical activity of Maori aged 13 to 18 years. As this case study outlines, it’s a ‘by Maori, for Maori’ initiative that encourages youth and their local communities to take ownership and lead the way.
Background & partners
‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ developed out of the Northland Sport and Physical Activity Strategy 2006-2009. This was developed by a partnership of organisations including Sport Northland, the Northland District Health Board, Te Tai Tokerau MAPO Trust, regional and local councils, and schools.
“Once the strategy was agreed, hui were held to work out what initiatives could be implemented to increase the physical activity of Maori. Dance and Nga Mahi Tuu Taua were identified as key activities for Maori youth,” explains Sport Northland’s Anna McKernan, project facilitator of ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’.
It’s worth noting that the 2009 Sport NZ Active New Zealand Survey rates dance (all forms except club/disco) as the fifth most popular sport and recreation activity for 16 to 24 year olds.
From the outset, direction from, and involvement of youth was actively sought in developing ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’. Similarly, local communities were encouraged and supported to take ownership and build sustainable programmes.
The programme continues to receive advice and support from Te Roopu Manaaki, Sport Northland’s Maori advisory group. It also delivers to the Northland Intersectoral Forum strategy ‘Engaging Taitamariki in Learning’.
In particular, this strategy aims to engage taitamariki (young men and women) in learning social, cultural and physical skills, by participating and competing in outside activities such as sports, cultural, and leadership events.
Establishment funding came from the Northland Sport and Physical Activity Strategy partners, as well as from Active Communities and Te Puni Kokiri.
Dance intensive programmes
Early 2009 saw ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ dance intensive programmes run in Whangarei, Dargaville and Kaikohe. These involved 40 hours of structured dance activity under the guidance of contracted dance tutors. The two-hour workshops were held twice a week after school, with a longer weekend session.
The three dance ‘crews’ each gave themselves a name - Ladeda, Undakava, and Curiosity. Each crew developed a unique routine. The ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ programme concluded with the crews performing for their whanau and friends, and then at the Northland Street Dance Champs.
“The parents were blown away seeing them perform,” says Anna. “The crews learned how to work together, about choreography, design - and performing in front of 900 people.”
The intensive programme evolved from the 2008 pilot ‘have a go’ workshops held in Kaikohe. Participants at these workshops wanted to take their skills to the next level, with more frequent and more challenging activity – and with the opportunity to perform.
Before the dance intensives were implemented, there was a lot of networking within the local communities led by Sport Northland’s programme’s team leader Hayden Wood. “We had to work out what was wanted, what the venues should be, what days. We had to get community buy in,” explains Hayden.
Working at the local level was very important because Northland is a large region with many small, distinct communities. What works in Whangarei is unlikely to suit Dargaville, much less Opononi.
Networking also helped to identify potential participants. Particular focus was given to youth who were interested in dance but had not previously performed. Hayden contacted schools, youth workers, and community organisations. There was some media coverage and word-of-mouth did the rest.
The programme was free to join. There were no entry criteria other than age, and no formal enrolment processes other than having a parental/guardian consent. In each of the three communities, 15 youth started – 45 in all. Thirty-four stayed through to the dance champs.
“No-one was compelled to attend. We recognise that young people often have a lot of other things happening in their lives. For the programme to be sustainable, it has to belong to them – and work for them,” emphasises Anna.
After the performance, feedback from parents and participants was very positive. Of the 25 youth who returned an evaluation, eighty percent rated the overall experience highly.
“Goals and expectations were always clear and consistent. They achieved more than what I’d thought. This programme was delivered to inspire all the youth physically and spiritually, and all of their thoughts and ideas were gladly received and allowed to develop. Kids became active – they enjoyed it. They wanted to keep doing it. They wanted to be there. That was cool. It was the best experience with young people I’ve had in a long time.” – one parent’s feedback
The dance programme has since been introduced in Kaitaia and Opononi. In Whangarei, Dargaville and Kaikohe youth have been given the opportunity to lead workshops with guidance from tutors.
“We’ve started it, given it the impetus. But the local community will take it from there,” says Anna. “The youth now have the confidence and skills to perform at local events. It’s a great way for them to engage with and contribute to their community.”
Nga Mahi Tuu Taua
The Nga Mahi Tuu Taua (Ancient Maori Weaponry) programme began in Dargaville and Kaitaia in mid-2009 with the support of local hapu, iwi, and secondary schools. “The programme focuses on the development of skills associated with traditional Maori weapons. Nga Mahi Tuu Taua requires participants to be physically active. It’s very disciplined, much like other martial arts or fencing. To progress, participants need to put in many hours of practice,” explains programme leader Hayden Wood. To achieve each grade, students must demonstrate skill and knowledge across physical, mental, spiritual and language areas. While targeting youth, the programme welcomes all whanau participation, regardless of age.
“Anyone interested in participating in or supporting the programme is welcome to come along,” Hayden says. As students of the programme achieve gradings, they may be encouraged to teach others. In this way the programme can grow and be sustained. In addition, students still at school may have the option of working towards NCEA credits through Nga Mahi Tuu Taua.
This is happening in Dargaville, thanks to a collaboration involving ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’, a Te Uri O Hau Tangata development programme, and Dargaville High School. As with the dance initiative, community ownership is integral to the programme. According to Hayden, “Our aim was to be a springboard and to input teaching and other resources in communities where free programmes like this didn’t exist for youth. Once the community comes on board it’s over to them to determine how the programme should develop.”
In communities where the programme is running, the commitment is long term, with weekly workshops occurring for most of the year. “It takes time to build a sustainable programme. You need to engage regularly with the community over a long period,” Hayden says. ,/p>
‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ operates within a framework based on Dr. Mason Durie’s model Te Whare Tapawha, which defines a holistic approach to achieving optimal health for Maori. ,/p>
The framework requires that:
- te taha tinana – taitamariki are physically active in a positive and safe environment
- te taha wairua – taitamariki are cared for spiritually and are empowered to achieve
- te taha hinengaro – taitamariki are encouraged to share thoughts and ideas in an open environment
- te taha whanau – taitamariki are supported and relationships are nurtured.
Connection with youth and local communities
The programme connects with youth and the local community. The community connection will only strengthen with time. “We are looking constantly to align with other initiatives that have the same goals,” says Anna.
The programme is embraced by its audience. Because youth played a central role in developing ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’, the programme meets their needs and goals and they have responded accordingly. It’s a great example of active living within a youth and Maori context.
Excellent quality of experience
Mass participation events have their place. But the focus here is on working with small groups of youth on a regular basis, and giving them a quality experience to take their skills to the next level. “The youth start with nothing. By the end, they have formed their own crew and they can deliver a polished performance,” enthuses Anna.
‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ is designed to be sustainable beyond the span of Northland Sport and Physical Activity Strategy, Active Communities, and other funding. Participants will gain skills to become future programme leaders, while local community organisations will continue to support the programmes. “Now the programme is set up, it’s over to the communities to run with it,” says Anna.
The structure supporting ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ is complex. Many organisations are involved to some degree. However, this complexity is kept in the background. “It’s not about us claiming what we do. The community and youth in particular don’t care who funds the programmes. They just want to do it and that’s where we need to focus our energy,” says Anna.
Both dance and weaponry aspects of ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’ will continue to evolve, in response to local needs. The programme may extend to one or two more communities. But the key aims are to fully migrate the ownership of the programmes to the existing local communities, and ensure their sustainability.
The other focus is to support youth who have developed through these programmes to lead related activities, and thereby increase the number of participants. For example, one youth leader is keen to establish a junior dance group. Others are keen to support school lunchtime dance activity.
Contacts and links
To know more, visit www.sportnorthland.co.nz and look under Northland Sport and Physical Activity Strategy. To discuss ‘Taitamariki Tuu Ora’, contact Anna McKernan by calling 09 4703224 or emailing.
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