Collective Change Award – Whānau

The work of Whaea Kiwa Hutchen (nee Stirling), Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu and her whānau was recognised when they were awarded the E Tū Whānau Collective Change Award – Whānau in 2013. Find out why below.

Whānau-a-Apanui – “We must keep moving forward together.”

Kiwa Hutchen (nee Stirling), Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu, is the heart of a Christchurch whānau guided by the simple but powerful principle of putting aroha into action. In June 2013 her family received one of the first E Tu Whānau Awards for Collective Change.

Talking with two of her five daughters, Amiria Hutchens and Tania Mataki, in the sitting room of the sunny Spreydon home she shares with Amiria, a grandson and three great grandchildren, the 80 year old widow is emphatic.

“Keep tight to that love”

“Keep tight to that love,” she says.

“We are a big family and like all families we’ve had our challenges, heaps of challenges. At times there are so many challenges you think you’re going mad but the important thing is to care for one another, work hard together and keep talking to each other. Never close the door.”

That, says Kiwa, is the recipe for a resilient family, one that faces and survives its challenges and moves forward to nurture and support the next generation and help other families facing similar issues.

Traditional values

Drawing on the traditional values she was given by her own parents, Amiria and Eruera Stirling of Waihau Bay in the Bay of Plenty, Kiwa and her husband, Peter, built just such a family.

She and Peter had five daughters and a son. They raised their eldest grandson as their own and today she is Nana to 41 moko and great grandchildren. A stepdaughter completes the immediate family. In addition to their own children, Kiwa and Peter brought up five whāngai.

Kiwa’s own childhood was steeped in traditional tikanga of whānau and she has always held fast to that knowledge, sharing her memories of bringing up children whenever she could.

Rituals surrounding childbirth and the raising of children centred primarily on mother and child, but men were always expected to not only provide but to nurture and protect their children in their own way. Whānau looked after each other’s children and each other.

“We were very resourceful. We milked cows, made butter, tended our gardens and there was plenty of kai at sea. Everything was free and we were always helping other children and other families,” said Kiwa.

“If a family was struggling there was always someone there to give mum a break. All that changed when we went to live in the city.”

Mana restored

Kiwa was brought up in a safe world but not a perfect one. Abuse wasn’t widespread, and she never experienced it but it did happen. When it was discovered, however, it was tackled openly and the perpetrator was expected, and made, to take responsibility for their actions.

“If it was sexual abuse, the elders would sit with the affected family and the family were involved in deciding the outcome but it wasn’t punishment for its own sake. It was about restoring the mana of those that had been violated. No matter how hard things were,” she said.

They would always address issues kanohi to kanohi.

Her daughter Tania believes the expectation that a wrongdoer should take responsibility for their actions within the whānau contrasts with today’s attitudes.

“Often the only way is through the courts or a family group conference but whānau have no ownership of the process. We are always sending everybody off to counselling but we’ve stopped actually talking to each other. It’s all about denial and excuses and finding legal ways of getting out of the situation. Then, it was all about mana,” she said.

Stand together, support each other

Kiwa’s message is that whānau build resilience by standing together and supporting each other, no matter what has happened.

“No family is perfect. Even when our families sink to the depths of despair, we must keep moving forward together. That’s how we build resilience and heal and, by example, can help other whānau in turn.

“Keep talking and caring about one another and no matter what happens, no matter how ugly it gets, aroha, aroha, aroha. In the end, aroha always wins out.”