Ko te maopopo te lima malohi
Ke te tauamoga o te atu fenua
Our strength is in the collaboration of our people
For binding together we will uplift the nation.

In October last year the Hutt Valley Tokelauan community (the second largest in Aotearoa) started planning their cultural capability and digital skills training workshops, funded by an ACE Aotearoa professional development grant.

Ime Telea, a member of the committee overseeing the implementation of the grant, explained the need for the training:

“As we are an oral culture our traditional knowledge is preserved through the elders and in Tokelau song and dance. These are the carriers of Tokelau history. They are the only repositories of knowledge, the only way our generation can be linked to the past.”

So strengthening culture, language and cultural identity is the first goal in their 10 year strategic plan. The second is to increase access to education, skills and training opportunities in all aspects of life-long learning.

Ime: “We wanted to educate our Tokelauan community through workshops led by our elders, and to digitally record the process for future generations. We also wanted to involve the members of our community who are working in digitally-based work, such as graphic designers and communications – so they can pass on their experience of these occupations to Tokelau people and their families.

The workshops covered six areas of learning: oratory, dance, cultural attire, hua (the welcoming ceremony); the pa ceremony (learning the ceremonial and cultural significance of the traditional pa, the key parts of the mother of pearl shell which is traditionally gifted to young women), and workshops led by members of the community working in digitally-based occupations.

“Seventy percent of our people are New Zealand born,” says Ime, “and Tokelauan is one of the most at risk languages. Many of our young people are not motivated to learn the language, but they are willing to engage with our elders, who migrated to New Zealand, and learn their culture first-hand from them – rather than from books. Heritage knowledge is sacred, and through our stories which are embedded in song and dance they can learn the values and beliefs about a world view that is very much Tokelauan. They get a sense of pride in how rich their culture is. They become more confident. Parents may have told them stories in the home environment, but in a group like ours they are exposed to a wider community that has so many layers of generations.”

The group started delivering workshops in October last year meeting three times a week (except for the school holidays) until the end of March. Some sessions had more than 300 people attending – none had less than 100. They learned choreography, drumming and how to compose songs using the traditional structure. This year, alongside these workshops a group, armed with fresh pandana from Tokelau, worked together learning how to make the pipi or traditional dance consumes. It was an opportunity to share the learning, make over 100 pipi for both women and men (for the planned festival in July) and document the process on video. During the whole process social media kept the community in touch with the programme’s timetable and progress.

When the lockdown came many of the group switched to working collaboratively with other organisations and delivering care packs to members of their community who were in need. The connections made during the PD process made this all the more achievable.

The festival has now been put on hold: “We always hold our festival at Easter. Having this goal provided us with a purpose and a framework for all our workshops”, says Ime, “and although we couldn’t hold it, we have, as a community greatly benefited from the deep learning that our workshops provided. It has grown the cultural capability of a generation that does not speak the language. It has given them a sense of connection and belonging. And when we have completed the digital package there will be a resource for future generations.

“We are so grateful for the PD grant. The only way we can educate our community is through voluntary effort of the adult and community education sector.”