Sharing families’ waka stories
At Whanganui Learning Centre there is a project taking shape as part of Whanganui’s events during the Festival of Learning next month. It involves waka, or representations of waka and their significance to families and their heritage.
“We were looking at an activity that would get people in the community talking,” says Jen McDonald, Whanganui Learning Centre operational coordinator.
At first it involved one of the Learning Centre’s partners, Talking Matters, which promotes the power of talking with babies and toddlers. Another partner is the McKenzie Trust, connecting education and community.
“It started with Talking Matters but has shifted and is now about wider connections.
“For the festival we have a group calling themselves the Change Makers. They look at all sorts of things within their own wha¯ nau and community and come up with ideas how to change things and make them better. So when we’re looking at connecting education and community, it’s wha¯ nau centric but closely related to education.”
The Change Makers are parents and grandparents who learn through the Learning Centre.
“Everybody has a story to tell, so we’re looking at the migration of people and telling that story.”
The waka represent the journeys people and families have taken to arrive in New Zealand or Whanganui, so while some do look like traditional waka, or canoes, others are more like buses, large ships or aeroplanes.
“For those who know their ancestral journey, they might be coming by bird or whale or the original waka their family arrived on. It’s about putting the spotlight on oral language and this is a good way to get wha¯ nau talking.”
Schools and the wider community have been invited to participate.
“We’re collaborating with the Whanganui Regional Museum and it will culminate in an installation.”
Waka will be displayed for a week at the museum’s temporary premises in Ridgway St.
“We will have materials available so, during that week, anybody can come in with their family group and make their waka and add it into the display,” says Margie Beautrais of the museum.
She says waka need to be finished by August 27.
“It’s about connecting people, not only with education, but with each other. This is a beautiful way to do that. It’s giving people a voice to express who they are,” says Jen. “As a community we’re sharing each other’s stories.”
“It has taken on a mauri of its own because people have responded so positively to it,” says Gail Imhoff, who has been contracted to assist the Learning Centre with the project.
The library is also supporting the project so if people want to explore their genealogy there are resources available.
Change Maker families were represented by Bree and her children Lucas and Zion, and Emeline and her daughters Mareca, Ulamila and Obadaiah.
“We are a group of people not happy with the status quo, and we see a lot of barriers that stop people reaching their full potential, a lot of gaps that people fall through, so we want to fill the gaps and break down the barriers,” says Bree. “Environmentally, educationally, financially, culturally . . . every way. Places try to have a one size fits all system, but it doesn’t work.”
“The group offers a space to have a voice, share what they’re going through and offer solutions,” says Jen.
Lucas is working on a house bus as his “waka”, complete with concertina door.
“He did a lot of growing up on a house bus,” says Bree.
The Change Maker group is running some of their own activities during the Festival of Learning. This is just part of the Festival of Learning and if anyone has ideas on how they could contribute to the week-long event, contact Whanganui Learning Centre on 348 4950.
With a selection of waka are (seated from left) Lucas, Bree, Emeline, Mareca and Ulamila. Standing are Gail Imhoff, Jen McDonald and Margie Beautrais.