Youth Unit Kapa Haka greet visitors to the Unit.It's Youth Week 2017! "Our voices count; count our voices".

For the first time, Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit has its own kapa haka training and performance group.

“This is a new and very important programme for the youth in the unit,” says Principal Corrections Officer, Gary Smallridge. “Kapa haka has provided an opportunity to unite the youth in the unit. The boys are hugely proud of their talents and have greatly enjoyed learning these new skills together.”

The kapa haka training is being delivered as part of a range of programmes to address the rehabilitation and reintegration needs of the 17 to 19 year old offenders in the unit.

“We felt this was something that would really benefit the boys in the unit. Education provider Te Wananga o Aotearoa (TWoA) is running the group and our goal is, regardless of the length of time the youth are with us, to give them as much exposure to Māori  culture and tikanga as we can,” says Gary.

The youth gave their first performance to unit staff, family and members of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in late April and have performed at a couple of small unit events since.

According to Youth Unit Interventions Coordinator Luan Smith, all the boys are incredibly proud of what they have achieved and excited about the opportunity to share their newfound knowledge and skills with the unit and family.

“For Māori  youth in the unit, and especially the 12 or so boys in the group, this has given them great pride and an improved understanding of Māori culture and their cultural identity,” says Luan. “For youth who aren’t Māori , they have gained a better understanding of Māori  culture and who we are as New Zealanders.”

“Our goal through programmes is to give the youth skills which prepare them for a better, and crime free, life on release. This means working with them to develop their academic, cultural, employment and general life skills,” she says.

Jay* is Ngati Whatua and, like many others in the group, had some previous kapa haka experience from when he was at school.

While he has been in prison he has made the most of the opportunities offered and says he has reconnected to his iwi.

Jay says that through the tikanga and kapa haka programme they are developing their appreciation and understanding not only of their Māori tanga, te reo and tikanga, but also re-evaluating their values; talking about respect, honesty, aroha, courage and hope.

Doing the tikanga programme and being a founding member of the kapa haka group has helped him understand himself better.

“It has made me a better person. I needed to wake up and take responsibility for what I do,” he says. “Doing tikanga has opened up my spiritual being. Tikanga tools teach you how to behave; they are a way of life. I am going to take these learnings and use them to stay out of trouble. ”

Jay plans to continue with his tikanga skills and education and make a significant shift in lifestyle on release.

“The haka is great for working out any frustration or aggression you are feeling,“ says Jay. “You just go into the garage and do a haka.”

Tana Cowell, Kaiako - Literacy & Numeracy Support Services with TWoA is driving the kapa haka group and the tikanga specific programme operating in the unit.

“Most of the boys were getting exposure to kapa haka through the tikanga programme and a number of them have prior learning from their schooling, especially those who have attended immersion schools,” Tana says.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing all my learners participating and enjoying their learning,” he says. “Kapa haka enables learners to experience Māori tanga; language, customs as well as the performing arts. It is empowering, promotes confidence and self-esteem and requires teamwork.”

To maintain their interest and increase engagement, Tana asks kapa haka members to consider what actions they want to use in our songs and to think about implementing their own music preference (reggae, hip-hop or rap) into what they are doing.

“My hope is that all have a greater understanding Māori tanga and how it influences our identity as New Zealanders,” he says.

TWoA continues to work with those currently in the programme and integrate all new learners as they arrive and are developing a peer mentoring (tuakana/teina) system for the future.

Originally from the North Island, Tana has whakapapa to Tainui-matua and Ngati Porou-whaea. He joined TWoA in August 2016 as a kaiako to deliver an “Everyday Skills” programme to prison learners. He has a background in education, having taught Te Reo Māori  and PE in secondary school for 13 years prior to joining Corrections and then TWoA.

“My association with the youth unit began late last year, when I started teaching kapa haka in other units at Christchurch Men’s,” he says.

Tana has big plans for the future of the kapa haka group. He has plans for developing a prison waiata and haka; utilising the group’s knowledge and experience in Māori  based initiatives -powhiri for visitors and new staff, Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori , and Matariki and potentially a further collaboration with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.