Mā te huruhuru te manu ka rere
Let our rakatahi be the wings that give us flight

Ngāi Tahu has a young population, with 32 per cent aged under 15 years, and 49 per cent under 25 years. As the newly released report on income inequity by Tokona te Raki suggests; inequities across education, income and health for Māori have an impact at a micro and macro level for the whole of society. This also presents us all with an opportunity to support an agenda for change so that these youth are able to realise their part in society  āpōpō – of the future. We asked a group of emerging Ngāi Tahu hauora leaders what their aspirations entail.

Mō tātou, ā, mō ngā uri a muri ake nei For us and those who come after us.

Ngāi Tahu, Waihao

Dardanelle McLean-Smith’s daughter Leila is an intelligent, loving pre-schooler. When the 26-year-old watches her child play, she often wonders what life will be like for Leila as an adult.

“How are we as tāngata whenua going to address the issues facing us? Physical health is poor, the mental health statistics for Māori are a disaster, our wellbeing is not good. We are continually at the top of the table for the bad statistics. Things can’t still be like this when my daughter is grown up. We need to look at things and do things in a different way, and the rangatahi (youth) need to be driving that change.” McLean-Smith says because rangatahi represent so much of Ngāi Tahu, and its future, it is essential they are involved in initiatives for change.

“The rangatahi voice needs to be heard. They need to be able to contribute in a meaningful way, rather than feel they are being told off if they try to speak, because they are just ‘youth’.”

McLean-Smith trained as a social worker and for several years worked at the national youth justice facility at Rolleston. There she came in contact with many Māori youth with no positive role models, identity or path for the future. “Sixty-six per cent of that population were Māori. We’re talking about the top youth offenders in the country here, so that’s a pretty telling, and sad, statistic.”

Her experiences, and desire to contribute for the good of Ngāi Tahu, led her to work for the iwi. At the beginning of 2018, she began working as Kaitohutohu Hauora and Mātauranga (health and education advisor) for Te Taumutu Rūnanga, near Leeston. The role involves working with justice, health and education organisations to improve outcomes for those in the Taumutu area. She is also a member of the Ngāi Tahu Working Group, Tōpuni Tamariki that has led the strategic relationship for the iwi and Oranga Tamariki, the national agency for vulnerable children.

In a step towards better engagement with rangatahi, McLean-Smith and her cousin Talia Ellison-Collins organised the first Ngāi Tahu Rangatahi Summit in 2017. Each of Ngāi Tahu’s 18 tribal areas had two representatives at the Summit. During the one-day event, rangatahi spoke of aspirations for themselves and other Ngāi Tahu youth. One of the ideas that came across strongly was that young people felt there needed to be a sense of ‘reciprocity’ to opportunities provided by the iwi. For example, rangatahi who got educational grants should give back in some way, such as sharing their knowledge or working on the marae. “They don’t want to feel like beneficiaries when they are capable of giving back,” McLean-Smith says.

One idea from the summit will be presented to the iwi’s governing body – Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (TRONT). The participants want a rangatahi council established with elected representatives from each of the rūnanga. McLean-Smith says she’s positive about the changes that will come about from increasing levels of engagement with rangatahi. “It’s about being inclusive, not exclusive. When there is a change in the mind set, more positive outcomes will be had for all whānau. Hopefully this will mean when my child grows up she is not seeing the same issues we see today.”

Ōtākou, Wairewa

Meremoana Potiki had her first panic attack while studying psychology at Victoria University. “I’d experienced feelings of anxiety as a child but I didn’t really know what it was. I had a very supportive whānau, but I didn’t know how to talk about it.” When the shy, softly-spoken girl from Christchurch moved to Wellington to study psychology, her anxiety become more pressing. “I was submitting assignments, and the pressure was getting to me. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had to be perfect. It became overwhelming.” After experiencing her first panic attack, Potiki sought and received help from an excellent support system for Māori students at the University.

Through her own experiences with anxiety, she noticed there was a severe lack of spaces where she and other Māori could speak openly about mental health. This eventually influenced her study aspirations. Potiki hopes to soon begin a PhD, centred on understanding mental health issues within her tribe. The research will tackle the scale and significance of mental health issues for Ngāi Tahu, as well as proposing some initiatives from the results of her study.

Potiki says poor mental health is one of the biggest issues facing Māori. While Māori have high rates of poor health and wellbeing, it’s not something a lot of them feel comfortable talking about. “We need to start talking about mental health, and feeling safe to do so. There’s this almost implicit belief in Te Ao Māori (The Māori World) that complaining about one’s struggle can sometimes be perceived as being ungrateful – that everyone has difficulties and they don’t want to be seen to be complaining about theirs.”

As part of her PhD research, Potiki will share her own experiences. “When I first talked about my experience with anxiety with other members of my hapū (sub-tribe), it wasn’t easy. But I found humour was a great thing. It really broke down barriers and I found once I started sharing my experiences with others, they felt comfortable sharing their own experiences with me.” Potiki hopes her research will enable others to share their stories, and get the support they need.


Working in a youth care and protection facility was both sad and rewarding for Tahu Stanley.

“The reality of working in child protection services in New Zealand is the sheer amount of young Māori who are in the system. Many have no cultural ties or pride in their  Māoritanga.  They know they are  Māori, but most couldn’t tell you more than their iwi.”.

This cultural disconnect, and a lack of positive role models and life experiences, often affected the young people’s mental health. “A lot of young Māori come from violent backgrounds, and don’t know how to express their emotions when they feel overwhelmed. This would often lead to them working themselves up to the point of complete mental shutdown or physical outbursts as a release.”

Stanley worked in the facility on and off for about four years while studying towards a communications degree. Though the job was challenging, Stanley says it was a privilege to be able to share his pride in his Māoritanga with the rangatahi.

“This was the part of the job that I enjoyed the most, seeing some of the kids really embrace their culture when they were in an environment that encouraged it.”

Seeing the potential for change, Stanley decided he wanted to work in a full-time role with rangatahi.  He is now working as Kaitoko Mātauranga (education advisor).

“As a kaitoko, I work with  education providers to ensure the learning objectives and aspirations of Ngāi Tahu whānau are met. There are a lot of young Māori who are doing well for themselves and have a good relationship with their own hauora (health). I think education is important in this, as is having a firm sense of identity.

Ngāti Waewae

Matt Sollis will be the first person from Arahura to graduate as a medical doctor, but not its first healer. His taua (grandmother) Miriam Mason, affectionately known as Aunty Nin, was a Reverend Canon in the Anglican Church and healer in the West Coast town of Arahura. “I feel that I’m following in the footsteps of my taua. She was interested in rongoā (traditional Māori medicine) and used to treat us with hot bread poultices and karakia (prayer). She influenced my understanding of hauora and wellbeing a lot.”

Whānau is hugely important to Sollis. He grew up in the bosom of his turangawaewae (standing place) of Arahura pā. Whānau support and encouragement has helped and sustained him on his journey to become a doctor. He is currently a fifth year medical student at the University of Otago’s Christchurch campus.

“It’s such a privilege. I feel that my whānau are behind me, it makes me super motivated to return home one day and give back where I can.”

Sollis says a lack of educational achievement is one of the biggest issues facing Māori. “The stats are pretty poor for Māori passing NCEA, and getting into and staying at university. I feel it’s a big issue for Ngāi Tahu, and particularly the West Coast.”

As part of his desire to give back, Sollis is part of a Ngāi Tahu-backed initiative on the West Coast that aims to keep rangatahi (youth) in education. The initiative is called Tuia ki Te Tai Poutini and is for year 11 to 13 Māori students. It aims to engage rangatahi so they feel a connection to their tūrangawaewae and the people of that place. The rangatahi attend five sessions throughout the year that aim to really celebrate them, each focused on a different aspect of Māoritanga. At the final session, rangatahi are presented with a kuru pounamu tāonga.

Sollis is a keen gardener and advocate of the environment’s ability to anchor people and improve their wellbeing. He spoke to rangatahi at the Tuia i Raro session and focused on whenua (the land) and the environment and its role in grounding our identity. “It talked about my experiences, told my story, and took them to see my garden.”

Sollis says he has received a lot of tautoko (support) from the Māori /Indigenous Health Institute (MIHI) at the University of Otago, Christchurch. MIHI has developed a Hauora Māori curriculum for medical students that has been adopted in medical schools around New Zealand and the world. “They have helped open my eyes about how to be a better doctor, and a better Māori doctor.”

Sollis says he hopes one day he can help young Māori and inspire them to be well, excel in education and achieve for themselves and their whānau as he is now trying to do.