People with disabilities 'the stars in my eyes'   

By Tamati Tiananga

Ike Rakena, who uses a wheelchair after he broke his neck playing rugby league, wants to see greater support for Māori with disabilities by Māori. 

"Māori can determine what their pathway is if they bond together and whanaungatanga and be able to connect with each other to make a more unified and jollified as a collective," Rakena says. 

Rakena is on a mission to enable good lives for all Māori with disabilities. He says for far too long the disabled are often referred to as the forgotten. He wants to change this perception in communities by adopting Matariki methodology.

"Māori can determine what their pathway is if they bond together and whanaungatanga and be able to connect with each other to make a more unified jollified collective."

 'What dreams do you have?'

A nurse by trade and having worked with the elderly, Maria Johnson is a tūhono - a connector, who works directly with disability clients.

Johnson says, "I've seen the disharmony. I've worked with people with disabilities and the way we did things wasn't really touching people and changing people's lives. When I was offered a position in demonstration, it was really different and I had to really think about 'how can I do this?'."

EGL director Jasmine Morrison knows the struggles from the other side too because she has autistic sons.

“When I came on as a māmā, what I was used to was people asking me, 'What's wrong and how bad is it?'" Morrison says.  "When I came onto enabling lives, I had a tūhono connector who asked us: 'What dreams do you have and what goals do you have and what does a good life look like?'”

Johnson, who is Morrison's connector, describes her clients as stars.  

'You gain trust'

"Once you get a relationship, you gain trust from families who have never had anything, particularly Māori," she says. 

Morrison says her organisation has evolved but much more can be done. 

"It's ground-breaking and transformational. What's come before is a system that's never worked for disabled people and has never ever worked for Māori and this was a chance to ask disabled people because they know what they want." 

It is ground-breaking work like this that Rakena and his team say will change people’s lives.