By Mihingarangi Satele, Te Rito journalism cadet
Hawke’s Bay woman Cherie Kurarangi says she was born into gang life. Her family were in the Mongrel Mob and she grew up in it. It wasn’t easy. In fact she says she has both witnessed and experienced inter-generational trauma. But she’s dedicating her life to breaking that cycle for her whānau and to make Aotearoa a better place.
Cherie Kurarangi knows that life in the Mongrel Mob can be tough and sometimes brutal, so she’s turned her home into a place of refuge.
“We’re not emergency housing. We’re crisis accommodation. We come for you when there’s a massive crisis coming on. We’re crisis accommodation.”
Kururangi’s helping Mob gang members and their whānau. But she maintains she’s actually doing all of us in society a favour.
“Let me tell you something right now, every single person in New Zealand knows somebody who knows somebody who’s a gang member. So guess what - you’re all affiliated.”
She was born into a Mob family in Hastings, but says the odds stacked against her and others like her start even earlier than birth, at conception.
“From the time they’re conceived their life condition drops significantly… Why? Mummy could be smoking and drinking. She could be doing a bit of meth on the side here and there.
“Mummy’s probably in a violent relationship… and/or homeless or transient.. So automatically all of those things are working at our deficit for our tamariki.”
Kururangi looks even further back into the whakapapa of a baby born into a gang family. She asks what happened to their mum and dad to get their lives to this place? Or their grandparents?
“There’s intergenerational trauma, mum could have been raped. That could have been how this baby was made. That’s all before this baby was born.
“The average life-expectancy of a gang member in New Zealand is just 45 years. Forty-five years!”
The people Kuruangi works with start life as underdogs. But she says every underdog responds to good kai in the morning, a karakia before it’s served and a safe place to play together or for their tamariki to do that. Simple things that can make a huge difference.
Only a handful of people volunteer at Kurarangi’s house. Women in the gang can come with their kids or on their own if they need time out.
Part of her motivation is to provide a place where mums can just have time with their children. Because she sees too many who only have an hour a week of supervised access.
“That’s not how we should be running supervised access here in Aotearoa, not for our whānau. What you need is a home, you need a whanau-focused environment where whānau can engage - where mum can cook a kai, that’s why I have this facility here.”
And she says welfare services such as Oranga Tamariki would be better served by familiarising themselves with what’s actually happening in gang families. Oranga Tamariki declined an opportunity to comment.
“Government organisations, like OT, I really recommend some cultural training in gang whānau. You really need to work alongside us because we are your biggest problem in Aotearoa right now. okay?”
Okay. Few would argue with that or that Cherie Kurarangi is setting an example of how to effectively engage with the hardest to reach people in our team of 5 million.