Conversations in the Tāiao

Jewell (Heitiki) Carlson joined us for our Summer 22-23 intake of Growing the Puna internships. Here she shares her learnings throughout the experience. 

My Māori heritage and culture are a huge part of who I am. Taiao is a foundation of Māori culture and due to the strife of modern-day life, we are slowly disconnecting from it. Once every 2 years, my whanau and I participate in a whanau hīkoi that follows tracks that our tūpuna used to tread. Our whanau hīkoi was created for many reasons; to bring everyone together; anchor the bond with our tūpuna; connect with taiao; focus on Atua Matua; and shadow the footsteps of our tūpuna. This engagement with my whanau and tūpuna was very important to me as I live far away from my land and do not reconnect as often as I’d like. Treading the land my tūpuna tread was empowering, as I felt their mana every second. If it weren’t for these hīkoi I would very rarely explore taiao, but now that I understand the spiritual and mental factors that surround taiao it makes the physical worth it.

The wānanga with Te Papa Tākaro o Te Arawa was eye-opening for me as I have never been on a wānanga that challenged me so mentally. It was an experience that allowed me to have in depth conversations about Taiao and how I could feel the mana of my tūpuna surrounding me at the hardest times. I was privileged to be able to join the Toi Tangata and Te Papa Tākaro o Te Arawa team, as we spent 12 hours getting to know each other. Although I was trying to primarily focus on breathing, listening to my kaiārahi talk about different interventions or activities was enlightening. 

I definitely learned a lot about myself and how stubborn my pride can be after fracturing my rib and continuing to complete what was supposed to be a two hour hike in four hours. Different experiences change the way we see opportunities. If I hadn’t have fractured my rib during the bike ride, I don’t think I would have walked the whole way with Renei, Crystal, and Stevie, which would have prevented me from having all the interesting kōrero with them and hearing Crystal name every bird she could hear. Without that kōrero, I would have just marched on not stopping for the views, not listening to Taiao, not learning from everyone’s kōrero. So even though I got a mamae, it was worth the experience it led me to.