Health, well-being and waka

Tairawhiti waka the focus of Gisborne woman's PhD.

Tairawhiti waka the focus of Gisborne woman's PhD.

VOYAGING WAKA: Ngahuia Mita is pictured at the Gisborne Marina in front of the waka hourua Tairawhiti, which is integral to her research project. Picture by Paul Rickard

Gisborne woman Ngahuia Mita has developed a knowledge of Tairawhiti waka, and in particular Maori connection to the ocean and why it is so important to health and well-being. She talks to Kim Parkinson about her life and work, which has been boosted by a Health Research Council grant for the next three years.

Ngahuia Mita was born and raised in Gisborne, growing up mostly around Elgin and Te Hapara.

“I had an awesome upbringing in Gisborne. We started paddling really young, so most of my summers were spent down at Anzac Park and then at the Marina.”

She paddled for both Mareikura and Horouta, mostly for the Hinerupe Maidens, and won a number of national titles.

Her grandparents had a big influence on her childhood and the course of her life.

“We spent a lot of time with them down in Wellington, and then got the opportunity to visit them in the UK where my Pop was serving as the High Commissioner. That was an amazing experience and I got to learn and expand my view of the world,” she says.

“My primary connection to Gisborne is through my Nan and our whakapapa connections to Whangarā and Waihīrere and further south to Nuhaka.”

Ngahuia’s mum is originally from Gisborne and both her parents were heavily involved with sport.

“As kids we spent a lot of time down at the Harrier Club, netball courts and the river, watching and waiting for them and participating ourselves in all the different sports.

“My dad has a big involvement in the community too as the co-ordinator of the Tauawhi Men’s Centre and advocate against family violence.

“I’m the youngest of three. Both my brother and sister grew up in Gisborne too and went on to study in Auckland — so a lot of me going off to uni was following in their footsteps.”

By Year 11, she had made up her mind she wanted to go to Otago University to the School of Physical Education.

“I wasn’t sure at that stage what I wanted to do after, but I knew I had an interest in health and physical activity — and this became more apparent as I became a member of a national youth advisory council for what was then New Zealand Aotearoa Adolescent Health and Development.”

Spent three weeks in Antarctica at end of her Masters

Towards the end of her Masters study in 2016, she was given the opportunity to travel to Antarctica to study Maori connections to the southern continent through voyaging.

She spent three weeks there with the Ross Ice Shelf Programme, where scientists were examining the complexities of the largest ice shelf on the continent.

“It was an amazing experience but because of the weather when we were there, a lot of this work was put on hold — so we spent a lot of time at Scott Base, with a few day trips out to the Ross Ice Shelf to retrieve instruments and take measurements from them.”

At university she began to study all aspects of waka, looking at the health benefits.

“During my Masters I worked alongside the waka community and looked at what the link is between the ocean and health.”
Ngahuia was a core crew member on the maiden voyage of the waka hourua Tairāwhiti when it was launched in Auckland in December 2017.

The “floating classroom” is for both education and tourism, and has realised a 27-year dream for Tairawhiti Voyaging Trust chief executive Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp.

Over the past year and a half Ngahuia has worked as research fellow on a project called Tangaroa Ara Rau, alongside community groups and national organisations working within the realm of Tangaroa — including Hauteruruku ki Puketeraki, Te Toki Voyaging Trust, Toi Tangata, LIVEIT Enterprises (Robert Hewitt), Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust and Waka Ama New Zealand.

“The purpose of Tangaroa Ara Rau was to work with these practitioners to create a network, co-develop research and resources that enhance the health and well-being of Maori whānau, and all New Zealanders utilising waka and mātauranga.”

It is based on five pou (pillars): mātauranga (knowledge and practices), rangahau (research), hononga (relationships, network and connection), rauemi (resource co-creation) and hauora/oranga (well-being).

“For the PhD, I will be focusing specifically on Tairawhiti waka.

“Firstly I would like to further uncover and bring together a number of the whakapapa (genealogies) and stories associated with the ancestral canoes of the Tairāwhiti region, as something that is pivotal to the identity of ourselves as descendants of Tairāwhiti.

“The second part is about examining the waka hourua (Tairāwhiti) as a site and method to enhance the health and
well-being of the people of Tairāwhiti, in all aspects.”

Ngahuia was a recipient of the Health Research Council of New Zealand’s 2019 Career Development Awards.

She will receive over $140,000 which will go towards her research titled Tairāwhiti Waka, Tairāwhiti Tangata — Examining Tairāwhiti Voyaging Philosophies.

“I am very humbled and honoured to receive the research grant, especially for Tairāwhiti and the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust,” she says.

“Health Research Council funding is quite prestigious and I’m very happy that they recognise this work is important for the health and well-being of the people of Tairāwhiti. The grant itself will be used to support me as a researcher full-time alongside the waka and voyaging trust, and there is also an allowance and research costs which will directly contribute to realising some of the aspirations of the trust and provide tangible outcomes from the research.

“Long term, I hope that this work supports the growth and development of waka hourua in Tairāwhiti. I also hope that this research will shed light on all the positive outcomes for health and well-being that engaging with the waka and the ocean have, which in turn could lead to influencing policy and funding for health in our region.

“I hope this research also inspires the next generation of sailors and scholars in Tairāwhiti, so that we have a thriving waka hourua community who are happy, healthy and know where they come from.”

Ngahuia will relocate to Gisborne from Auckland in six months and is excited to move home.

“I have seen a lot of positive growth and development in the region over the course of my life, and other changes that have challenged the community too. At the moment I see a lot of potential for Gisborne that hopefully will bring positive returns for the local community.”

Gisborne woman Ngahuia Mita has developed a knowledge of Tairawhiti waka, and in particular Maori connection to the ocean and why it is so important to health and well-being. She talks to Kim Parkinson about her life and work, which has been boosted by a Health Research Council grant for the next three years.

Ngahuia Mita was born and raised in Gisborne, growing up mostly around Elgin and Te Hapara.

“I had an awesome upbringing in Gisborne. We started paddling really young, so most of my summers were spent down at Anzac Park and then at the Marina.”

She paddled for both Mareikura and Horouta, mostly for the Hinerupe Maidens, and won a number of national titles.

Her grandparents had a big influence on her childhood and the course of her life.

“We spent a lot of time with them down in Wellington, and then got the opportunity to visit them in the UK where my Pop was serving as the High Commissioner. That was an amazing experience and I got to learn and expand my view of the world,” she says.

“My primary connection to Gisborne is through my Nan and our whakapapa connections to Whangarā and Waihīrere and further south to Nuhaka.”

Ngahuia’s mum is originally from Gisborne and both her parents were heavily involved with sport.

“As kids we spent a lot of time down at the Harrier Club, netball courts and the river, watching and waiting for them and participating ourselves in all the different sports.

“My dad has a big involvement in the community too as the co-ordinator of the Tauawhi Men’s Centre and advocate against family violence.

“I’m the youngest of three. Both my brother and sister grew up in Gisborne too and went on to study in Auckland — so a lot of me going off to uni was following in their footsteps.”

By Year 11, she had made up her mind she wanted to go to Otago University to the School of Physical Education.

“I wasn’t sure at that stage what I wanted to do after, but I knew I had an interest in health and physical activity — and this became more apparent as I became a member of a national youth advisory council for what was then New Zealand Aotearoa Adolescent Health and Development.”

Spent three weeks in Antarctica at end of her Masters

Towards the end of her Masters study in 2016, she was given the opportunity to travel to Antarctica to study Maori connections to the southern continent through voyaging.

She spent three weeks there with the Ross Ice Shelf Programme, where scientists were examining the complexities of the largest ice shelf on the continent.

“It was an amazing experience but because of the weather when we were there, a lot of this work was put on hold — so we spent a lot of time at Scott Base, with a few day trips out to the Ross Ice Shelf to retrieve instruments and take measurements from them.”

At university she began to study all aspects of waka, looking at the health benefits.

“During my Masters I worked alongside the waka community and looked at what the link is between the ocean and health.”
Ngahuia was a core crew member on the maiden voyage of the waka hourua Tairāwhiti when it was launched in Auckland in December 2017.

The “floating classroom” is for both education and tourism, and has realised a 27-year dream for Tairawhiti Voyaging Trust chief executive Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp.

Over the past year and a half Ngahuia has worked as research fellow on a project called Tangaroa Ara Rau, alongside community groups and national organisations working within the realm of Tangaroa — including Hauteruruku ki Puketeraki, Te Toki Voyaging Trust, Toi Tangata, LIVEIT Enterprises (Robert Hewitt), Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust and Waka Ama New Zealand.

“The purpose of Tangaroa Ara Rau was to work with these practitioners to create a network, co-develop research and resources that enhance the health and well-being of Maori whānau, and all New Zealanders utilising waka and mātauranga.”

It is based on five pou (pillars): mātauranga (knowledge and practices), rangahau (research), hononga (relationships, network and connection), rauemi (resource co-creation) and hauora/oranga (well-being).

“For the PhD, I will be focusing specifically on Tairawhiti waka.

“Firstly I would like to further uncover and bring together a number of the whakapapa (genealogies) and stories associated with the ancestral canoes of the Tairāwhiti region, as something that is pivotal to the identity of ourselves as descendants of Tairāwhiti.

“The second part is about examining the waka hourua (Tairāwhiti) as a site and method to enhance the health and
well-being of the people of Tairāwhiti, in all aspects.”

Ngahuia was a recipient of the Health Research Council of New Zealand’s 2019 Career Development Awards.

She will receive over $140,000 which will go towards her research titled Tairāwhiti Waka, Tairāwhiti Tangata — Examining Tairāwhiti Voyaging Philosophies.

“I am very humbled and honoured to receive the research grant, especially for Tairāwhiti and the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust,” she says.

“Health Research Council funding is quite prestigious and I’m very happy that they recognise this work is important for the health and well-being of the people of Tairāwhiti. The grant itself will be used to support me as a researcher full-time alongside the waka and voyaging trust, and there is also an allowance and research costs which will directly contribute to realising some of the aspirations of the trust and provide tangible outcomes from the research.

“Long term, I hope that this work supports the growth and development of waka hourua in Tairāwhiti. I also hope that this research will shed light on all the positive outcomes for health and well-being that engaging with the waka and the ocean have, which in turn could lead to influencing policy and funding for health in our region.

“I hope this research also inspires the next generation of sailors and scholars in Tairāwhiti, so that we have a thriving waka hourua community who are happy, healthy and know where they come from.”

Ngahuia will relocate to Gisborne from Auckland in six months and is excited to move home.

“I have seen a lot of positive growth and development in the region over the course of my life, and other changes that have challenged the community too. At the moment I see a lot of potential for Gisborne that hopefully will bring positive returns for the local community.”

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