Hinemoa Elder: Our lessons in leadership from our mighty mokopuna

I was inspired by the very real leadership of some of our young people at Hoani Waiti Marae, writes Dr Hinemoa Elder.
DAVID WHITE / STUFFI was inspired by the very real leadership of some of our young people at Hoani Waiti Marae, writes Dr Hinemoa Elder.

I was inspired by the very real leadership of some of our young people on Monday. As part of Brain Research NZ we were in the presence of students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani. Let me take you there.

I am standing in the tomokanga, the entrance, of Hoani Waititi marae. Waiting for the karanga that will draw us forward and which I, alongside one of our esteemed kuia, Dr Waiora Port, will respond to. This is our third year of annual wānanga with the total immersion Kura.

Standing there, in that moment, I am exquisitely aware of all the stories and all the people that have guided me to this precise moment. Have you ever had one of those moments where you felt all the strands of your life coming together?

And deep inside, you know you are exactly where you are meant to be and doing exactly what you are destined to do? Time stands completely still. You see and feel all the experiences that had brought you to that precise moment. Finally everything makes sense? This is one of those.

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What follows is an extraordinary exchange, a pōwhiri, a ritual of encounter. Time honoured tradition. We travel across the marae atea, the open space in front of the house and then inside the metaphorical body of the ancestor, of the wharenui, of the meeting house.

I am there as a kind of matchmaker between our ethnic cultures, our generational cultures. I know this is the first marae wānanga for some of our neuroscientists. Some have told me they feel anxious and fearful of causing offence. And slowly over time, over each wānanga, they grow in confidence. Using their pepeha. Relaxing and tuning into whakaaro Māori, Māori thinking.

The students are also shy, respectful and over the last few years they have gradually engaged more and more in describing their own interests and questions. For our researchers these lived experiences build cultural competency. We build a shared sense of contribution and citizenship.

We work hard to build real relationships between our Māori community partners at Brain Research NZ. At this stage we have two, one is with this whānau. The other is with the whānau of Puketeraki Marae in Karitane.

One of the key difficulties with the existing health research funding model is that when the research funds run out that is the end of the relationship with the Māori participants or stakeholders, in most cases.

So we don’t rely on the whims of research project monies to underpin these relationships. We commit to long-term relationships with our Māori community partners because that is our priority. And that is the expectation in our contract with the Tertiary Education Commission.

So many potent reasons to do this right: Encouraging our students to consider careers in science, seeing themselves in these kinds of jobs and seeing how they would improve them.

Eventually, they will determine the research agenda, improving our research so it can deliver real benefit for Māori. Supporting our Māori researchers’ careers.

Breathing the same air has an extraordinary osmotic effect. Breaking down barriers, learning from each other, seeing beyond titles, beyond ages, beyond stereotypes.

One of the key themes of the day highlighted by the tauira was the recognition of the vital role of mokopuna. Moko, the traditional marking, also the person; and puna, the spring, pool, as well as the verb puna, meaning flow.

The inextricable link between the grandparents manifested in the traits of the grandchild. For me this also alludes to the inexhaustible wellspring of love between grandchild and grandparents. So you see how the vital link between mokopuna, grandchildren and their grandparents is embodied in the word itself.  Our discussions honed in on the vital role of grandchildren influencing their grandparents’ health and well being.

It might seem strange, given we are the Centre Of Research Excellenceof the “ageing brain”, for us to be thinking about the relationship between generations. Makes perfect sense to me. For one thing, the brain starts ageing from the moment of conception right?

And if we are empowering the young with knowledge we are already working in prevention. These wānanga are invaluable in challenging conventional thinking around what the concept of the “ageing brain” might mean. And for neuroscience institutions these discussions, with whānau, with Kura, with tauira, in this way, are new.

Lessons in leadership, coming from these grandchildren, these mokopuna. Plus you need to witness their performance! Leadership, next level.

Sunday Star Times