Part one of this interview is here
Would it be reasonable to say that there is a spiritual element to your writing?
I have a number of hats which I wear and one of them is that I work for an organisation called “Rites of Passage”. We take young men into the bush and they have an experience which corresponds to the experiences, or something similar, of our ancestors.
Our young people and our young men in particular have a very difficult time in what is a very oppressive society. The suicide rate amongst young Maori and Polynesian men is one of the highest in the world.
Our people are disconnected from their lands, their history, and their culture as well as subject to racism and oppression. They don’t have a core system of beliefs that represents who they are and so I use my poetry amongst other things to help them develop a set of values through connection to their culture.
We have some processes which allow young Maoris, again often young men, to connect with their roots. This is vitally important. I tend to reach back into the old stories, the history, and the core beliefs and ways of our ancestors to facilitate positive orientations.
What is the situation with the Maori people in New Zealand at the moment?
I will assume that your readers wouldn’t know a lot about Maori history and the history of New Zealand. We have a treaty, The Treaty of Waitangi, which is a binding document that speaks about equality and rights. Unfortunately in New Zealand there are lot of difficulties for the Maori people and while it might be the case that people are suggesting New Zealand is a multicultural society, in some ways the state of bi-culturalism, where Maori and Pakeha were supposed to be accorded equal status which was something that was actually written into the treaty; that has been leapfrogged over.
Multiculturalism is an easy sell in some ways and people would like to be at that stage now, but we have a long way to go regarding reparations and the Black Lives Matter protests really dredged a lot of issues to the surface and that showed how far we have to go. I do think we can’t let those issues fade away.
The struggle for equality and against racism has to be maintained. Too often we are left to our own devices, our own capacities, to sort problems out in our own communities as if our problems are separate from the society which caused those problems in the first place.
You work in community setting using your poetry?
I do and I am a youth worker and a social worker and I have been doing that work for quite some time. I do find myself switching hats quite a bit. I use my spoken word and the tools of writing to allow organisations to develop their ideas and from there we work with people in the community to develop their voices, especially those whose voices have been marginalised.
I also work with businesses or community groups where we use creative writing to allow people to look at ways of communicating effectively.
Do you connect everything together, your spoken word with your community work?
Often people look at these things as if they are separated, or as if they work in isolation, but in my view everything is connected. I see cultural innovation as the connection between the many layers that make up our community, and the layers which make up oppression and the difficulties which Mauri people face, and the layers of society which create tensions generally, and I think creativity allows people to make connections between all of those different layers.
You also have an international element to your career?
As I was just saying, I think that cultural innovation and its connection to creativity is crucial to allowing people to change their lives.
I have travelled a fair bit and that has been connected both to my writing and to my cultural heritage so I have made connections with indigenous groups in Canada and in Australia.
I travelled to Alice Springs and then to Uluru where I worked with indigenous people using storytelling. In Canada I went to Banff up in the Rockies and I did similar things there, sat with the elders, shared experiences and learnt about each other’s cultures.
Where to now?
I want to use my writing to look at policy development, I think creative innovations especially through the arts can be effective in a number of ways. Policy development within the community, trying to give marginalised voices, hidden voices a platform and as I have already said using writing and storytelling to help explore issues and develop responses to them.
There are of course personal elements to what I do so I also want to develop my own writing, continue to improve my capacity to communicate the ideas and the themes that I work with, that underlie what I am aiming to draw audiences towards.