Ngahau and Debbie Davis — Making the What | Māori People

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  ... establishing community-owned enterprises and rebuilding the economic base of predominantly Maori rural towns.
  how   communities   heal    / The New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship 1 Ngahau and Debbie Davis are community and economic developmentworkers in the rural township of Moerewa, in Northland. They are themain drivers behind He Iwi Kotahi Tatou Trust and have initiated manyprojects which have become role models in the regeneration of a localeconomic base using the skills and values of a predominantly Maoricommunity. Their projects have included setting up social servicesfor families, running training and mentoring programmes for youngpeople, establishing a variety of community-owned enterprises, andreviving the main street and public spaces of Moerewa. ã Ngahau Davis, of Ngati Manu and Kohatutaka descent, grew up in Moerewa. Thetownship was srcinally settled in the 1940s by displaced Maori families from around theNorthland region. The rst families moved into 30 abandoned American World War II transithuts, located at the back of the Moerewa Freezing Works where they found work. Many fam-ilies later moved into homes in a newly built Maori housing subdivision, or in semi-suburbanhouses that surrounded the shopping centre on State Highway One. The small communitygained the local nickname of Tuna Town after the discharges from the Freezing Works led toa thriving population of tuna whakaheke (silver-bellied eels) in the nearby river.The Freezing Works and the Bay of Islands Dairy Company were the main employerswho brought prosperity to the area in the boom years of the 1960s and 1970s. At the heightof this prosperity, up to 5000 people a day travelled to Moerewa for the well-paid jobs inthe area.But in the 1980s, there was a radical downsizing or closure of the two main employers,and the number of local businesses operating in Moerewa suddenly dropped from 28 to aslow as ve ... as the once-vibrant small town began a downward spiral. NGAHAU and DEBBIE DAVIS MAKINGTHE WHAT Ngahau and DebbieDavis  ngahau   and   debbie   davis    / Making the What 2However, Ngahau Davis had left Moerewa before the major downsizing and disruptionsof the 1980s had taken place. When he turned 17, like many other young people from coun-try areas, he moved to Auckland city in order to get trade training and better job prospects.Ngahau: “I wanted to see the world and get out of Moerewa. I didn’t just want to be a freez-ing worker ... and initially I wanted to train as a butcher so I could work in the retailing side ofthe meat business.”When he arrived in Auckland, Davis found a home at one of the hostels run by the UnitedMaori Mission. These Christian hostels helped rural young people adjust to a healthy city life,and also helped them nd employment and arranged apprenticeships in the trades. Ngahaulived in the Mission hostel for the next ve years ... and it was there that he met his future wife.Debbie Davis, of Ngati Pahauwera and Ngati Kahungunu descent, had arrived in Aucklandafter a somewhat troubled upbringing on the East Coast. Debbie: “It was the 1960s and I waspart of a rather large Maori whanau which had moved from rural areas into Gisborne city. Wehad our Nanny and aunties and uncles all around us. After a turbulent marriage breakup, ourmum got really unwell with several nervous breakdowns, and she found herself in and out ofmental institutions. The authorities were concerned about her children, and they felt that alarge Maori family was not the best environment to bring them up.”“To my mother’s everlasting regret, two of her daughters were legally adopted out.Because my other sister and I were quite fair-skinned, the authorities decided we would havebetter opportunities if we were placed with Pakeha families. So, from the ages of ve andsix, my sister and I were made wards of the state, and started living with a series of fosterfamilies.”The child welfare policies of the time meant that Debbie wasn’t allowed to see or speakto her own whanau. Eventually, at age 12, she rebelled and ran away from her foster familyand went looking for her own people. Debbie: “Things didn’t really work out for me, and Iended up getting into all sorts of trouble in Gisborne. My Nanny heard about a Maori aairspre-employment training programme and so she stepped in and sent me to the hostel inAuckland.”Things settled down for Debbie as she entered into the life and community of the Missionhostels. “But most importantly, it was also the beginning of my faith walk ... and that was what Ngahau and Debbie Daviswith family at Otiria Marae 1995  how   communities   heal    / The New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship 3really saved me from a very destructive path. I began to heal in my thinking around many ofthe hurts and trauma of that earlier life which came about largely from being a ward of thestate, and I deepened in a restoring relationship with God. The life in the hostel certainly inu-enced my outlook because they encouraged us to be involved in serving people and caringfor people.”Debbie Davis recalls opening a letter on her 16th birthday which told her she was nolonger a ward of the state, and that the records of her childhood spent in care were to bedestroyed as she had ‘come of age’. She says that it was a dening moment as she thenbecame determined to dedicate her life to working with whanau.ã Debbie and Ngahau Davis married in 1980, and moved to Wellington where Ngahautook a job as a truck driver, and later became a foreman and dispatch manager with Smith &Brown. The couple also threw themselves into voluntary social service activities with familiesand young people. Ngahau: “When it came to social issues, Debbie and I just seemed to havethe same DNA which was driving us to help people. We ended up on the same committees.We are very dierent people — I’m very vocal and I build the relationships that get the buy-infrom people and their involvement. Debbie was much quieter then ... yet she dealt with thenuts and bolts and lled in all the details that makes things happen.”It wasn’t long before Ngahau was oered a job with Te Hou Ora , a Youth-for-Christ agencyrunning out of the Hutt Valley. While Te Hou Ora had a Maori name, it was largely run byPakeha people who were motivated by the purpose of evangelism. This was an aspect of thesocial work that Ngahau was becoming less comfortable with: “Debbie and I would say thatour faith is tied into everything we do, and it has been that way since the beginning. But weweren’t interested in scalp-hunting for any religion. We were more interested in real engage-ment and real change, and actually showing your faith by what you do and not by a lot ofwords.”After eight years of working some very long hours, the strain and stress that came withthis work was starting to show. Debbie: “I think we were both quite naive about what it tookto do this work, and we had just run out of energy. We were taking families into our ownhome, and by that time we had three children of our own as well.”Ngahau: “I didn’t know I was burnt out because I didn’t have a language for what wasgoing on for me. But this was the closest we had ever got to breaking up in our relationship.Something had to change... and we had to pay attention to our own family situation.”The family moved to Otara in South Auckland to work with Kokiri Te Rahuitanga Ki Otara which was running social services and employment training programmes. They were alsoactive in the Maori pre-school movement Te Kohanga Reo , and the establishment of Te KuraKaupapa Maori O Piripono.  They stayed in South Auckland for ve years and learned a greatdeal about the issues of Maori self-determination, entrepreneurship and strategies for com-munity economic development.It was during this time that Ngahau found he had a real longing to return home toNorthland. “I also wanted to bring the skills I had learned back home, and I wanted my kidsto be ‘Made in Moerewa’ and know the roots of who they were.”  ngahau   and   debbie   davis    / Making the What 4Ngahau recalls being interviewed by the Auckland Metro magazine for an article on thefuture of Maori. “I said to the journalist, ‘Maori need to go home!’ The journalist replied, ‘Yes,but ... go home to what  ?’ I thought about it, and then said, ‘Our job will be to make the what  .’”ã In 1994, Ngahau and Debbie Davis returned to Moerewa, and Ngahau began workingat the local employment training trust, He Iwi Kotahi Tatou. Moerewa is quite close to the Bay of Islands where New Zealand had its rst Europeansettlements, and the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The training trust had taken thename He Iwi Kotahi Tatou ( “We are now one people”) from the famous statement made byGovernor William Hobson after the signing of the treaty. For Ngahau, this statement doesn’t just call for the unity of Maori and the British Empire of 170 years ago. It is also a present-daycall for people to work together so that all of us can enjoy the benets of progress and pros-perity in this nation.Unfortunately, with the recession of the 1980s, the rising unemployment in Moerewa wasbringing with it quite the reverse of progress and prosperity. There was a marked rise in alco-hol abuse and a signicant underground economy of drugs, gangs and crime. And there wasone major incident that marked a particularly low point for this community — a riot whichwould leave Moerewa with a notoriety that would last for a generation.The riot took place in July 1979 after the police tried to intervene in a ght between around50 gang members from the local Black Power and the Auckland-based Storm Troopers.During the ghting a police sergeant was seriously assaulted and then thrown into the backof a police van which had been set alight. A local re engine was also destroyed. The riot onlydispersed when the police shot one of the gang members in the leg.The riot made national and international headlines and was considered one of the mostserious gang-related incidents ever to have occurred in New Zealand. Eventually, 25 gangmembers were convicted on charges including causing grievous bodily harm and criminaldamage — and politicians responded to the public outrage by increasing the police powersavailable to deal with any future incidents involving gang violence. Moerewa main street and Te Puna I Keteriki  shops
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