From 17 – 20 April, VOYCE-Whakarongo Mai had our very first Te Waka Rangatira Wānanga at beautiful Te Kotahitanga Marae in Port Waikato.
At VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, ‘Te Waka Rangatira’ (the Chiefly Canoe), is where young leaders with experience of the state care system unite to be seen, heard and connected to others with experiences of the care system. Collective experiences lead our kaupapa to improve outcomes and opportunities for young care experienced people across Aotearoa. VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai amplifies these voices to create change!
This was a MASSIVE time for everyone! Rangatira and VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai kaimahi from across the motu were welcomed on by mana whenua, Ngāti Tiipa, who allowed us to create magic in their space over the four days.
Day 1 started with a heap of EARLY starts for rangatira and kaimahi to make their way over to the Marae in time for the karanga! We participated in the pōwhiri, and shared kai in the wharenui, which was abundant and prepared with love from our Kitchen Queens throughout! Mana Whenua took time to share their fascinating kōrero about their whakapapa and the importance of the whenua to their whānau, hapū and iwi, to help us understand the significance of where we were.
Our awesome MCs raised the energy levels with some fun competitions before kicking off the creation of our Five POU Groups – Tūhono, Whakatairanga, Whai Pukenga, Rangatiratanga and Whakamana. Kaiwhakamana explained what each of our POU mean for us here at VOYCE and explained each POU in their unique way. Rangatira joined POU groups with specially designed T-Shirts and tote bags to mark the beginning of the POU Games! The games kicked off with a scavenger hunt for pictures of all the POU that had been secretly scattered around the marae when no-one was watching!
Before settling down for the night – our team of mana wahine from Te Tai Tokerau grounded our kaupapa in the understanding of mana, manaaki and manaakitanga, acknowledging that we all have a responsibility to ensure that manaakitanga is the outcome of our actions. They then skilfully took us through Nga Tatai Haere o te Whakapapa o te Wai: No hea te wai, Ko wai au – Pepeha: (The genealogies, origins and connections of water: Where the water comes from). This helped everyone think about the question “Who am I?” through the waters inside us and all around us. It sure was a long day, but the rangatira delved into this space with love and curiosity before we closed off with Karakia
Day 2 was greeted with a phenomenal sunrise, letting us know that this was going to be a great day! We opened with karakia and a big breakfast, before taking time together to explore our kaupapa Māori values: what they mean to everyone, and how they weave together to keep us safe. We were then led through an interactive session where rangatira could reflect on their awesomeness despite the challenges of the care system and share their hopes, dreams and aspirations for others who’ve had similar experiences even using things like Drawings, Lego, Play-Doh to express themselves – starting to open the window into collective advocacy for system change!
Feeling motivated, rangatira grabbed their carefully-crafted packed lunches to jump in cars and vans to meet with inspirational young rangatira, Pania Newton, at Ihumātao in Tāmaki Makaurau. There we learned about how a small rōpū of young whānau members, drew on their whakapapa and Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles to successfully put an end to plans for a major disruptive development on their sacred whenua. Pania shared what motivated her to make the sacrifices she did, taking us on a hikoi across the whenua to understand the importance of their actions, and giving us all a chance to add to their fire burning that has burned non-stop for many years!
We all returned to the marae feeling humbled by the experience and believing in the power of the collective – even if the collective starts small!
To bring us together again, we kicked into the next round of POU Games where each POU Group put together the pieces their POU puzzles in the fastest time! Intense!!!
DAY 3 started with our morning Karakia. Day 3 was all about tuakana-teina at VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, and a chance to celebrate the journey rangatira have taken with us over the years and the huge influence they have had during that time! Five rangatira who have helped pave the way for collective advocacy since the very early creation of VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai pieced together our whakapapa from their time with us. This included some big achievements like ensuring there is space for tamariki and rangatahi atawhai to have a voice in decisions about them; advocating for suitcases instead of plastic bags; raising the age of care and the Transitions Service! Rangatira atwhai have successfully advocated for these things over the years with VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, and rangatira who were part of all that were right there on that panel! They were joined by our Chief Executive Tracie Shipton, with some curly questions going back and forth! Great to be in the midst of this robust kōrero!
Lots to take in, so MCs swooped in with their powerhouse games filled with energy, hilarity and heaps of imagination!
With the creative juices flowing, the third round of the POU Games took off, with each group creating impressive and wonderful costumes out of paper bags, toilet paper and ductape! Incredible what everyone produced – hard for the judges to pick a winner!!
Everyone definitely needed some time to rest before joining our tuakana for a selection of workshops looking at different avenues and approaches to collective advocacy from their own experiences (Creative, Media and Political influence), showing that there are lots of ways you can contribute to system change and there is place for everyone who wants to get involved!
After dinner that night, there was no better way to mark a day of tuakana-teina than to be joined by Timoti Moran and his tamahine all the way from Te Wai Pounamu to gift each rangatira with the ira that he is making for every tamariki and rangatahi atawhai in Aotearoa: Taonga by Timoti. Beautiful to see rangatira who have already received their ira stand alongside Timoti during the gifting ceremony ending in Karakia for the day. So moving!
Day 4 – Where did that time go! Our morning Karakia gave us all the strength to get into the “Big-Pack-Up-and-Tidy-Up” at the marae. Our values shone through as all kaimahi and rangatira rolled their sleeves up to leave the Marae well-looked after, expressing gratitude to mana whenua.
Before heading off in our different ways, we came together in a porohita in the wharenui for our poroporoaki. Everyone could share some final reflections before our karakia to close the wānanga! Wow! If ever we needed boxes of tissues it was there and then! What a testament to the amazing and memorable time we had together! Mauri ora!