Helping youth find identity

DEENA COSTER
Last updated 05:00 26/07/2014
Maioha Tokotaua
IDENTITY IS KEY: Stratford’s Maioha Tokotaua is working alongside youth in the town to help them connect with their Maori culture and language.

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Being Maori has helped one Stratford man through some pretty tough times.

And it is the knowledge and strength he has in his own identity which he hopes to pass on to a group of young people he works with in the central Taranaki town.

For Maioha Tokotaua, te reo Maori is an important part of his cultural identity and something passed down to him by his grandfather.

"He decided it was time to pass on that reo to the kids," said Tokotaua, who is of Ngati Maru, Ngati Mutunga, Te Atiawa, Ngaruahine and Ngati Ruanui descent.

After attending total immersion Maori schooling till the age of 12, Tokotaua and his family re-located to Australia, which he described as a "hard" transition.

He and his siblings went to mainstream schools in Australia and required extra support to help them adjust.

"Our English was really horrible," he said.

However, he continued to use te reo during his time living across the Tasman.

"If someone could korero in the reo I would have as much conversation as I could with them," he said.

This included using Maori greetings while at work as a hotel manager or continuing to speak te reo at home with the family.

"We did what we would to retain what we had."

Tokotaua said it was also his Maori culture which helped him get through some extremely tough times, including a significant trauma he suffered at the age of 13.

"When I was in that situation, it was me being Maori that got me through that."

Tokotaua, who returned to New Zealand four years ago to work for his iwi, has now taken on a role of youth worker in the town.

He provides care and support to 10 teenagers while also running a group which has a membership of about 50 youth who reside in and around Stratford.

"What's really important for me is sitting there and helping them find their identity," he said.

Out of the young people he worked with, only about three knew their whakapapa.

Tokotaua said addressing their cultural and social needs needed to be achieved first.

"The language will come later, first let's look after the wellbeing of our kids."

He said initiatives like Maori Language Week helped to give the younger generation an opportunity to see and hear their culture on display in the community.

"That's a way to help kids feel proud to be Maori."

But it was the support the young people needed from their own whanau and iwi which was more important in the long term, he said.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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