Minister Kelvin Davis and Arrin ClarkConnecting prisoners to their whakapapa

12 September 2019
For Arrin Clark, one of the biggest rewards of being the kaitiaki of tikanga at Northland Region Corrections Facility is seeing the faces of the men he works with light up when they understand who they are and where they come from.

“It’s so good to see their reaction when they learn something they’ve been hungry to learn for a long time, usually about their identity. These men live in a world so far from our Māori culture and often, they don’t realise how far away they are,” says Arrin (Ngatiwai, Tainui).

Award presented to Arrin Clark, carved by men in Northland Region Corrections FacilityFor many, learning more about their whakapapa and reconnecting with whānau helps them gain a deeper understanding of the impact that their offending has on others, and sets them on the path to rehabilitation.

“The biggest thing I see is a greater awareness of the impact on their family and the vulnerability their family experiences as a result of their offending,” he says.

For the past 13 years, Arrin has been responsible for delivering the tikanga programme at the prison, where close to 60% of prisoners are Māori. His achievements were recognised at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2019 on 11 September when he received the Arts Access Corrections Whai Tikanga Award for his outstanding contribution in using tikanga and the arts to encourage cultural identity and support pro-social living.

In their comments, the judging panel said: “Arrin Clark, the kaitiaki of tikanga at Northland Region Corrections Facility, is responsible for transforming the site into a Māori therapeutic community focused on rehabilitation. He sets the benchmark of how to integrate tikanga across everything and his cultural programmes empower the men to reconnect with their culture, gain a sense of identity and make positive change. His role extends into the community to support the men’s reintegration back with their whānau and iwi.”

Arrin is responsible for running two programmes at the prison. The first is a four-day, noho-style (residential marae) tikanga course that uses Māori philosophy, values, knowledge and practices to foster the regeneration of Māori identity and values. He also runs an 11-week Mauri Tu Pae course that teaches prisoners the skills they need to change the thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that led to their offending.

Involvement in a wide range of projects

He has also been involved in a wide range of projects for the Department of Corrections, including youth offender programmes, the Gang Exiting Strategy and Te Whare Burglary Programme.

Arrin runs specialist Māori cultural assessments to identify the men’s cultural needs and help develop a rehabilitation pathway.

For many of the men, what they learn can be eye-opening: for example, Arrin says, the fact that Māori did not paddle in canoes from Tahiti to Aotearoa – they actually sailed.

“The men generally have no understanding of where our people originally came from and what the purpose of whakapapa is. In our tikanga programme we give a whole lot of presentations around migration and celestial navigation, and we look at things like how tā moko is aligned with cultural and social order and structure.”

Te Pua Wānanga the culture heart

This building is the site’s cultural heartOver the past eight years, Arrin was an integral part in the planning, design and placement of carvings, tukutuku panels and artworks in the Facility’s Te Pua Wānanga. This building is the site’s cultural heart and it’s used to run many of the cultural programmes.

Whakairo at Northland Region Corrections FacilityGraham Fletcher, Principal Advisor of Rehabilitation and Learning at the Northland facility, says Arrin’s long-standing commitment, his knowledge of tikanga Māori, his deep roots in the Northland community and local iwi (Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Rangi) are integral to the prison’s cultural identity, he says.

“Working out their whakapapa is a major part of the men finding their identity,” he says. “Arrin relates back to their whānau, understanding who they are and who their whānau are, because he’s been doing this a long time and knows the region so well.”

Arrin’s mana means he’s also been able to help some men break away from their involvement in gangs – often an important first step towards breaking the cycle of re-offending.

Graham says Arrin’s knowledge of tikanga has enabled the prison to develop a range of cultural programmes that include te reo classes, whakairo workshops and a Māori performing arts programme.  He opens the door for all cultures to participate, and many non-Māori get just as much out of the courses as Māori.

He also actively encourages contact with whānau, inviting them to attend community outreach days and graduation ceremonies at the end of each course, which usually include a hangi prepared by the men.

“These events enable the men to show their whānau what they’ve achieved through kapa haka, music, te reo and whakairo,” Graham says.

“Arrin goes above and beyond to make sure that the site has a cultural identity and that the men he works with understand who they are. This allows them to start the process of healing and reintegrating back into society, and with their whānau and iwi groups.”

Connecting prisoners to their whakapapa


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