E Tū Whānau inspires me everyday

Radio Kahungunu Rangatahi announcer Crystal Edwards (Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Aitanga a Mahaki) is a dynamo.

The 29-year-old broadcaster and film production assistant is a dedicated student of mahi marae, a community kaimahi for young people battling issues around alcohol and drug use and the front person for a local anti-cyberbullying campaign. She’s a trustee and poukaranga for Hasting’s Ruahapia Marae and its recently elected representative on the Te Haaro Board of Trustees at Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga.

She’s also a major fan of E Tū Whānau and what she describes as “it’s empowering, tikanga based kaupapa”.

“I’m driven by my passion for our people and our culture and E Tu Whānau inspires me, every day,” she says.

Crystal was introduced to E Tū Whānau at an iwi radio hui and says that once she’d checked out the website – “read the stories and watched all the clips” – and understood the whole kaupapa, she was hooked.

“It stimulates my imagination, gives me ideas because it’s all about what we can do to live great lives, not what we can’t.”

Crystal’s own life is a good example of that ‘can-do spirit’.

Created own career path

By the time she was 25, she’d spent nearly a decade at the local freezing works, working in a variety of jobs from boning room to administration.

She decided her next step up the organisational ladder was to work as an auditor but the all-male interview panel thought differently.

“When that panel told me that role wasn’t for me, I thought, ‘Bugger youse. You’re not controlling my career’, and I decided I needed more education.”

Her first qualification was a BA in Te Reo Māori from Te Aho a Maui, Eastern Institute of Technology. She followed that up with a diploma in screen production before completing her second degree in Māori Performing Arts with Awanuiārangi.

Leadership on marae

These days Crystal lives with her mother who she counts as a mentor and an inspiration. Whānau, in all its manifestations, is all important.

“My family pushed me to take on the trustee role and to represent them on the Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga Board because of my community commitments and what I do on my marae.”

Ruahapia is a young marae, and is manned by a younger generation. Crystal who has been learning the art of karanga since she was 13 years old, stands, alongside a first cousin and her mother’s eldest sister, as poukairanga. The men on their paepae are young as well.

“We are the generation that has learnt the reo from an early age, so it is a credit to our parents who often don’t have the confidence with the language that they trusted us to take on these roles despite our relative youth.”

“A lot of my generation are now stepping up and taking on that mantle. We sit at each hui, observe the tikanga and listen to the whaikōrero of our kuia and kaumatua. We’re always learning and are proud to be able to showcase the art of the marae and know that it’s alive and well and will carry on for generations to come.”

Creating happiness through waiata

A year ago Crystal and a few cousins started holding monthly waiata sessions at the marae.

“Singing together triggers happiness and aroha. You practice tikanga and manakitanga and you also develop a respect for your own mana, about who you are as a person. We’re just a small group but we’re open to anyone who would like to sit with us and sing a song. That’s how I started learning the art of karanga, by singing waiata with the elders.”

Modern and vibrant marae

For Crystal and the other pakeke of Ruahapia, the marae is a modern and vibrant centre for community activities. Crystal says that the waiata sessions are one way they’re encouraging “the cousins back onto the marae for occasions other than tangihana.” Hauora Buzz, their own whānau based healthy exercise and weight loss programme, is another.

“We hold exercise classes, invite inspirational speakers along to educate and encourage us. Nurses come in to take our blood pressure and we hold a weekly weigh-in. We put in $2 each session and at the end of six months half the money goes to the marae and the other half goes to the person who has lost the most weight. The whole whānau gets into it, wāhine, tāne and tamariki.

“Hauora Buzz is all about getting together as a family to lose weight and having a laugh.”

For Crystal, education is a passion for life.

Crystal at Massey University’s Wellington campus where she is a studying for a diploma in Health Science.

You can read more about Crystal in this story in the Hawkes Bay Today newspaper (published 30 March 2016).