Ko Mark Lang toku ingoa. Ko Ngāpuhi toku iwi. Ko Ngāti Horahia toku hapū. When the cell door shut behind me on my first night inside Northland Region Corrections Facility, I made a promise to myself that I would change. I made a promise I would get my first parole hearing, and I took every class and opportunity that Corrections offered me.
The art of carving has provided a pathway for me to navigate a journey back to wellbeing and restoration of mana. I learned my craft when I was in Hawkes Bay Regional Prison. I am now an esteemed carver.
In prison, I carved several significant taonga, including a carving now located in the Department of Corrections’ national office in Wellington; Tupuna Pou for Ngāti Pahauwera; and taonga for Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2021.
I stayed away from trouble in prison. I was adamant I wanted to turn things around.
From Northland Region Corrections Facility, I was transferred to Hawkes Bay Regional Prison where I took up carving and mau rakau, waiata and kapa haka.
When I got the powhiri into Te Tirohanga (Māori focus unit), I felt a huge shift. The programme’s Te Ao Māori worldview and the opportunity to connect with my whakapapa enabled me to find myself; learn who I was and what I stood for; where I belonged – and now, where I am heading.
Connection to my whakapapa, the stories and the gods
When I carve, I think about connection to my whakapapa, the stories and the gods. I think about the art of whakairo, which enables me to craft a taonga from raw materials. The taonga is then gifted to someone. It brings them enjoyment and mana, which also gives me a great deal of satisfaction.
The art of carving also taught me perseverance: the more I chiselled into the wood, the better I got. This perseverance has enabled me to bring the art of carving into my life.
The opening of my own gallery, Tika Pono Toi Gallery and Studio, in Dargaville, which also offers carving classes, is a dream come true. I still can’t quite believe it has all come together.
I started planning for this moment when I was in prison. I completed a Level 4 business certificate and business plan. I saw this as a chance for me to change my future and bring hope to others that you can transform your life and achieve your dreams.
My main driver behind this kaupapa is creative wellbeing through whakairo. It’s something that has helped many others in the community connect with te ao Māori.
As a form of rehabilitation, wellbeing/therapy and engagement, I know firsthand how beneficial and therapeutic the art of carving is and how the actual process of carving can engage and heal us.
The New Zealand Corrections system and its Hōkai Rangi Strategy has seen success in utilising whakairo to re-enfranchise both Māori and non-Māori and help them heal and grow.
Thanks to whānau and an Emerge Aotearoa initiative, The Generator, I was able to grow the carving business.
My efforts to introduce whakairo workshops into local schools and the community have received a lot of positive attention, including in the media. I am working to ensure the gallery has long-term, sustainable processes. This meaning working closely with local schools and the wider community; building the visibility of the gallery and the courses; and creating multiple income streams.
The gallery has just launched the school holiday programme running over the Christmas break. The expressions of interest far exceeded my expectations and workshops are already getting booked out, prompting me to extend the workshops to meet demand. The community is right behind this kaupapa and it’s causing a buzz in the town.
Many non-Māori youth have showed as much interest as Māori tai tamariki (teenagers). Dargaville serves a diverse demographic and the inclusion and understanding of different cultures within our community can only be a truly positive thing.
These workshops look to unite an isolated community and do this through education and te ao Māori wānanga-styled hui that teaches through the deeper meaning of tikanga.
My gallery is in the heart of the town and is generating a creative aura of positive alignment with the library block, also focused on educating the community.
So yes, I’m well in truly living my dream, waking up each day to do what I love: creating and building a business that will allow me to have choices, financial stability and take creative te ao Māori to new heights.