A week in Te Tai Tokerau with community worker and staunch advocate of the E Tū Whānau kaupapa, Shirleyanne Brown, is a whirlwind of community focused energy, optimism and whanaungatanga.
Shirleyanne is an independent Whāngarei-based community worker who also works with E Tū Whānau. She has decades of experience and fingers in many pies. The E Tū Whānau values, she says, are the salt that seasons them all.
“E Tū Whānau captures the whole of community approach, a ‘hands around’ movement for social change rather than a prescribed way of doing things.
“We all bring knowledge and expertise, lived experience, resources and influences to our efforts. E Tū Whānau can hold them all because of its values and strength based kaupapa.”
Kaupapa Māori approach
Shirleyanne talks a lot about building whānau up and backing them to thrive. A snapshot of her working week makes that philosophy abundantly clear.
One morning she’s hosting a gathering of Māmā Moving Mountains, a group of dynamic young mums who support each other with their personal and professional aspirations. Next, she’s on the phone to members of Māmā Manaaki, another group of mums with different challenges and goals. They’re dedicated to building what they describe as a ‘mama and community led response that supports whānau to thrive’.
Self-care is way down the list of priorities for these hard-working women who are often the lynchpins of their families. Shirleyanne is working with them to arrange their next hui. It’ll be held, literally, in the healing waters of the local iwi owned Ngāwhā Springs complex.
“We awhi these women who awhi so many others by allowing them to relax, have fun and kōrero about the challenges and solutions facing them and their whānau in the way their tūpuna did for centuries,” Shirleyanne says.
The following day she’s at a meeting of social and community work practitioners from NGO, government and Māori kaupapa organisations in Whāngarei and Kaipara. Shirleyanne was a prime mover behind the establishment of this community of practice. It’s a thoughtful move by practitioners to put their already natural collegiality onto a more coordinated footing. They’re on the frontline of a sector in transition. They want to use their knowledge and experience to influence the changes and make life a lot better for those whānau most affected by the change.
Engaging whānau in their marae
In between phone calls and email conversations Shirleyanne is liaising with local film maker, Tema Kwan, to put the finishing touches on Takiwā Kōrero, an innovative online talk show series fronted by leaders of marae within Te Rūnanga a Iwi Ō Ngāpuhi Takiwā ki Whangārei. They’re encouraging whānau to engage more with their marae and shape the future of their tūrangawaewae by sharing ideas, strengthening tikanga and building on the actions of their tūpuna. Shirleyanne has nurtured the project and E Tū Whānau has supported it.
As the week goes on Shirleyanne catches up with another entrepreneurial young wahine, something Northland has no shortage of, athlete and personal trainer Maureen Hei Hei. Maureen brings along Rod Hayward, the well-respected business coach and social enterprise mentor Shirleyanne introduced her to. They’re working on a kaupapa Māori inspired plan to help whānau ‘ditch the whakama’ about their bodies and start exercising, no matter where they’re at in their lives. The project is on track and going well.
“You can see the E Tū Whānau factor at work here again. It’s not telling people you’re mad, bad, broke and we’ve got to fix you. No. Under E Tū Whānau people have the opportunity to say, ‘we’re resilient, we’re strong but sometimes we lose a bit of faith in ourselves, and we need support’. E Tū Whānau is an enabler. It supports people to rebuild that faith.”
Connecting to whakapapa through kai
On the weekend Shirleyanne drops in on a large Ngāti Hou/ Ngāti Hau whānau wānanga with a special emphasis on kai and the memories evoked by the recipes of childhood.
Shirleyanne was instrumental in organising the wānanga with the support of E Tū Whānau.
Whānau members gathered on their tūrangawaewae to strengthen whānau connections, and to share stories and kai that resonated with childhood memories.
Whānau whakapapa represented hapū of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Maniapoto, Ngāi Tai and Tūhoe. Sharing recipes, memories of the preparation, the occasion and those who did the cooking captured the essence of whānaungatanga that sharing kai brings about and its relevance in today’s world.
Some bought freshly caught koura (crayfish) and others raw fish and meat dishes. There were lavishly iced cakes, jellies, puddings, and fried bread – all made from recipes handed down to different whānau members. And there was plenty of kōrero shared for each of the dishes which sparked lots of laughter and stories, many hilarious, some sad.
Whānau talked of parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. Younger, more tech savvy whānau presented whakapapa of Māori, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Croatian tūpuna. These triggered memories of childhood anecdotes and stories as told to them by their kaumātua. This wānanga gave five generations the opportunity to keep the links of whakapapa alive.
In Shirleyanne’s view, the wānanga epitomises the bedrock of community development – wairua-centred relationships based on what matters to whānau.
“Enjoying each other’s company, being authentic with each other in a safe environment, this is the kai that keeps hope alive and ultimately, it’s what builds healthy whānau and takes hapū and iwi forward.
“And that’s how E Tū Whānau works here in Te Tai Tokerau. Whānau always hold the rākau, but we’ve got your back.”