Dealing with mental health among Māori men outdoors

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

After losing family and friends to suicide and having a close-call himself, Travis Tawera is helping other Māori men through depression and anxiety by enabling them to re-connect to the land and sea through hunting, diving, and fishing.

'Tīore te Wairua' (Keeping Your Spirits Alive) is Tawera's solution to addressing mental health among Māori men.

“I wanted to end my own life, I went into the ngahere one day, with nothing but a rope in my backpack and I was lying down, I was thinking about my first experience with suicide, that was when I was in school and I lost one of my good mates, Charlie, he hung himself and that's what I was going to do, I was going to hang myself.”

Tawera says the East Coast has some of the highest rates of suicide and it affects everyone.

“I lost my sister to suicide and that was a big turning point in my life I went to some dark places and I didn't really know how to cope with it so I pretty much ditched all my family, I thought they were against me and I just went back to the land.”

Tawera grew up hunting and fishing from his grandfather in Waipiro Bay, and found solace in returning to his roots.

“I was just hunting fishing diving every day and sharing kai out with the kaumātua in Waipiro Bay- and friends and whānau that needed it as well.”

Now, he has a new purpose in life- to help other Māori men connect with the land and give them a safe space to open up about what they're going through.

“Just by doing different activities like hunting or even growing vegetables or walking along the beach and that, they open up to me which is awesome bro, it takes it away from counselling and a room and classroom kind of buzz which isn't... it's pretty uncomfortable for a lot of people.”

His Facebook page, 'Ngāti Providers Kai mō te tēpū', is about the gift of giving, and encourages Māori men to aspire to become providers.

“You know if you're really needing that help and you're genuinely needing that help and I'm keen to tautoko and help you, I want you to come to my whenua and enjoy what I've enjoyed, learn how to gather kai so you can home and teach that to your tamariki and just to your whānau and your friends especially your elders who can't get out anymore.”

Self-funded and self-motivated, Tawera is currently seeking sponsorship to make his kaupapa more sustainable.

He says that while he has the East Coast covered, he is encouraging Māori around the country to follow suit.