Irihāpeti Mahuika and her husband Jon Jeet, two of the founders of Tūhono Taonga, Tūhono Tāngata, see Toi Māori as a gateway to Māori empowerment and self-belief – as a pathway for people to grow beyond personal and cultural intergenerational disconnection.  For them, it’s not about their chosen medium, pounamu, it is about the journey that their kaupapa takes participants on and the sense of identity they can gain through learning about their whakapapa through the medium of pounamu. 

Irihāpeti (Ngāi Tahu – Kāti Mahaki ki Te Tai Poutini), was  teaching at Haeata Community Campus in Christchurch in 2017, when a small group of students showed interest in pounamu carving. The kaiako found Jon (Maniapoto, Fijian Indian), who has been carving for more than 18 years, and saw potential to use pounamu as a tool of engagement, to give students a sense of wellbeing and to empower communities to rise above some of the inter-generational trauma many have suffered. 

“Tūhono Taonga talks of the connections pounamu creates and Tūhono Tāngata speaks of the agency we have developed to establish meaningful connections with each other,” says Irihāpeti. “We developed a learning model to enable students to follow their passions and once it grew beyond the classroom, we started to look at ways to engage with wider whānau and communities.” 

Under the korowai of Haeata Community Campus, the kaupapa successfully applied for WAVE 10 funding in 2019-2020, which enabled them to establish their Trust and to set up a fully-equipped mobile carving truck, eliminating the need for them to be based in any one place. 

“So many of our young people feel disenfranchised and removed from their whakapapa but it’s been so inspirational to see them walk away from our wānanga feeling positive and inspired..."

“So many of our young people feel disenfranchised and removed from their whakapapa but it’s been so inspirational to see them walk away from our wānanga feeling positive and inspired. I don’t have the words to describe how I feel when I see them suddenly realising that they’re capable of so more than they ever thought possible for themselves.” 

More recently, Tūhono applied for RUIA funding for their new kaupapa, Toi Rakatahi, which runs from October 11-15. RUIA is a unique partnership between Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, Rātā Foundation and the Ministry for Youth Development, offering funding to support rangatahi development, aspirations and wellbeing in Te Waipounamu. 

“This fits perfectly with our kaupapa, which is aimed at young, aspiring, Māori who want to pursue a career as a Māori artist,” says Irihāpeti. 

“We have organised five practising artists from five different disciplines – whakairo, pounamu carving, digital arts, raranga and painting and portraiture – who will work closely with a small group of young people for a week.  And at the end of their mentoring experience, each student will produce a work for a final exhibition.” 

One of the artists taking part in Toi Rakatahi is master carver, Fayne Robinson, who will work with three or four students in his Woodend studio. Practising artist/carver Jon Jeet, will work closely with the students who are interested in the fine arts. 

“We’ll all meet at the YMCA in Christchurch initially, where we’ll have a group discussion on some aspects of starting and maintaining an arts career – everything from how to promote yourself as an artist,  key aspects of working in IT and how to have your own exhibition. “Then we’ll split off and the students will spend the rest of the week with their chosen artist,” says Irihāpeti.

Tūhono Taonga, Tūhono Tāngata  is now looking to the future and hopes to build community partnerships and offer learning opportunities through schools and community organisations. 

 “Māori have an innate potential for creativity and entrepreneurialism– our tīpuna were amazing; they did amazing things – and the assistance provided by Te Pūtahitanga’s WAVE and RUIA funding is now helping many Māori realise their dreams of self-determination,” says Irihāpeti. 

“It’s given many whānau the chance of a lifetime and many are exceeding their own expectations with WAVE and RUIA and the ongoing support that comes with them. 

“Our Tūhono Taonga, Tūhono Tāngata whānau support this kaupapa for love. We live busy lives but never ever do we think we’ll stop. Seeing our rangatahi and their whānau conecting with the awa, the whakapapa of pounamu and their own sense of empowerment is more than we could ever have imagined,” Irihāpeti says.