Kim Eriksen-Downs, supported by her husband Brendon, has been training trainers in indigenous safe practice for 13 years. She’s been doing it nationally. But she noticed that when she came home to Tuwharetoa she found that there were a lot of social, health, welfare and education practitioners who wanted to learn culturally safe te ao Māori practice. So with others, she set up a forum – a space where people could come together and learn. The difficulty was that it required her attention to keep the forum going, and it started to falter. Then two years ago Linda Moss, the ACE coordinator at Central Plateau REAP said that they would manage the forum as a way of supporting their commitment to te reo Māori. The result – a year-long, monthly, two hour session at the REAP for people wanting to learn Tuwharetoa culturally safe practice.

Kim talks about Kaimahi Tuwharetoa Ora.

The need

“A lot of practitioners don’t get cultural supervision so we have a lot of mainstream professionals and NGOs with contracts to work with our people who don’t know about Tuwharetoa tikanga and kawa. There’s not much supervision available out there because there just aren’t enough people. So I decided to be proactive, and said, let’s get together to find out what safe practice looks like and find solutions to issues and situations that you are working with. Let’s get some cultural context around your practice. If you are working with other cultures, any culture that is not your own, it is imperative that you see things from their world view as well as your own.

“My belief is that if you gather in collective consciousness this will lead to collective action, which creates a socially inclusive community, open to diverse thinking and behaviour.

“We call it a wānanga – a space with a good feeling that draws people back together to learn. It’s a place where people can come along and they are not afraid to ask questions. They can then come to an understanding that enables them to put things into practice that upholds the culture of the families they are working with. For some it also enables them to fulfil their contractual responsibilities.

“It’s during the day as people use it as professional development time. We share kai together. Each session is based on what practitioners want to discuss. We have a paediatrician who comes regularly, we have day-care teachers, Whānau Ora Navigators, mental health workers, business people and sometimes our kaumatua. The numbers vary. There’s usual about 6-10. If we have a lot we need to increase the time by an hour.


“We talk about how to work effectively amongst our people and within a te ao Māori environment. About how to engage with whānau and hapū. Many people want to learn the tikanga or kawa of Tuwharetoa. They also want to learn their practices and protocols. We create the kaupapa together – it’s a co-designed process.

“We might discuss how to apply Matariki in day-to-day practice. Matariki is a time of rejuvenation – clearing away the weeds, storing food. It is a metaphor for people to clear the old debris away. That will have an impact on your practice.

“I always bring it back to the inner vision. Self-care is really important because if you are not well as a practitioner how can you be giving well-practice to others? It is a challenge to them. If you are in the darkness, what do you do to assist yourself to see the light, and share the light? The self-analysis is done through cultural constructs. People reflect on why they are sitting in a space of darkness and they then plan how to make changes – to map a pathway to success, so they can achieve their wellbeing again. They have to look at themselves as a whole being that is coming into contact with other whole beings.

“We explore and use many tikanga, iwi korero, and models for understanding Māori well-being including te whare tapa whā: taha tinana (physical health), taha wairua (spiritual health), taha whānau (family health) and taha hinengaro (mental health). They can then examine themselves in a different way and adopt strategies to uplift their wellbeing. This leads to their creation of ara poutama – their self-care plans. This might involve things they can do, like going to the moana or lake, or the ngahere, the bush.They can do this alone or with their family.

“Delivery is bilingual. I speak in te reo, translate and write it on the white-board. It is an interactive way of learning te reo. It is called kōrero awhi. People learn both the language, iwi traditions and stories of home and how this can transform practice.

“We also share cultural networks. For example if someone wants to hold a national hui at a marae we create open contribution and guidance on how to do that – both the cultural side and the business practice so they can work alongside Māori culture and not impose their own cultural beliefs in te ao Māori spaces. Or if a person is working with a Tuwharetoa whānau who want to know about their whakapapa, we encourage them to explore all the options. Networking helps practitioners to be able to fulfil their practice.

“The advantage of coming to the wānanga is that they get to meet with other people. Whakawhanaungatanga is important.

“About half the participants are Māori. I encourage people to look at their own cultural context first.

"We share resources too. For example from Kaupapa Mana Kaha o te Whānau (family violence) and E Tu Whānau.

“It is a challenging environment, but a safe environment to explore yourself and others in a bilingual context. It is a place where people can start to notice their own prejudices and start to see how they might be treating people when they are working with them.”