“There was little mainstream education for young Māori and Pākehā minds about Te Tiriti o Waitangi, New Zealand history, where we all come from or how we relate to one another,” Aaron says.
Yet research from Christchurch’s All Right? campaign, a partnership led by the Mental Health Foundation and Canterbury DHB, shows Māori connect with images and kōrero that reflect the aspirations of local communities – that’s where kapa haka fits in.
“Kapa haka is a vehicle for young minds to connect with their language and histories,” says Aaron, a Maori health promoter for community and public health at Canterbury DHB.
“Waiata and haka carry the lessons of the past and the concerns of our current generations told through the power of language and movement.”
After 20 years in kapa haka, Aaron sees how being involved in the art opens pathways to pride and self-esteem and young people learning how to value their place in the world.
“Many of us are living in urban areas, and about 80% of us are raised outside of our own tribal boundaries in a Western society that is much different to the collective reality of our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ day,” he says.
“Kapa haka provides connections to local iwi, hapū and marae in the areas where we are born and raised, where we live work and play. It often provides a kind of surrogate pā life that teaches a collective identity through whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and aroha.”
Kapa haka and mau rākau have taken Aaron to Europe, Hawaii and Asia performing with groups such as Ngāti Rānana (London Māori Club), Te Ahikōmau and Moana and the Tribe.
His passionate involvement is one reason why he and his daughter Kaahu leapt at the chance to be the faces on one of six posters as part of All Right?’s Te Waioratanga project.
In the lead up to the national kapa haka festival Te Matatini 2015, held in Christchurch for the first time since 1986, the project promoted kapa haka as a practice and source of wellbeing.
“Performing at Te Matatini is an opportunity to express being Māori in our place and time with common goals and aspirations through the power of language and performance,” Aaron says.
“Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, he toa takitini - My strength is not of the one, but of the many.”