Te Tini a Māui have marked their 10th anniversary as a haka group in North America. Beyond being a cultural nest for Māori living in Vancouver, leaders of the group are also playing a critical role in helping First Nations peoples reclaim their capacities for self-determination.
Te Tini a Māui are more than just a haka group. At their 'Marae in the Sky' in downtown Vancouver, Canada you really get a strong sense of a home far away from home.
Wesley Paul of Ngāti Awa and Te Whānau-a-Apanui has been living overseas for 15 years and moved from Japan to Canada where he now has a Canadian family and works as a teacher.
"We're not only a group that gets together and sings," he says, "It's that whānau feeling."
His sentiments are echoed by fellow member, Ben Waretini Hemara of Ngāti Mahuta.
"It's a good whānau setting and keeps us grounded," he says.
The group held a reunion in Hawai'i to celebrate their ten year anniversary. It was a time to reflect on how much they've achieved since starting out as a group of five. Over 40 members have joined Te Tini-a-Maui throughout the ten years, with the group averaging around 10-12 members at a time.
Mara Andrews of Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Raukawa and Whakatōhea is considered the backbone of the group, even though she won't admit it.
"I don't even think when Te Tini a Māui started that we thought we'd be going ten years later and doing performances out of Vancouver across North America."
"We've performed at things that I'd never thought we would, supported a lot of NZ business, NZ universities, NZ Embassies, The Royal NZ Air Force, NZ Tourism, Air NZ has been amazing."
Current tutor Patrick Hape, also of Ngāti Kahungunu, says most members of the group usually didn't have the opportunity of growing up in the Māori world.
"They come hungry for Māori knowledge, hungry for haka, hungry for the language, hungry for the songs, hungry to be Māori."
Andrews and Hape are back in New Zealand where the head office of their consultancy business is based for a visit.
Te Tini a Māui started from members of the Canadian branch of Kāhui Tautoko Consulting Limited, which specialises in indigenous community development and is doing amazing things with First Nations.
"They've been conditioned to ask permission before you do stuff on the [tribal] reservations," says Andrews.
"So we've been hugely encouraging of 'don't ask for permission, don't wait for permission, express yourself' ... claim your land, claim your territory, be who you are naturally and I think that's really empowering for people."
Hape adds that the nature of their relationship with First Nation communities is humbling.
"When we attend gatherings of First Nations people over there, there is so much learning done. We observe their way of dancing, we hear their stories and work alongside them with the utmost humility."
Next month, it is back to work and back to practice at a Vancouver dance studio which Air NZ provides for the group every Monday night. They have a visit from a delegation of NZ universities in February to prepare for- and who knows what else the future may hold?
"We're nearly ready to start a regional competition in Vancouver," says Hape cheekily and is met with a hearty laugh by Andrews.
"We'll be submitting our tono to Te Matatini to add another region," he jokes. At least, it appears he is.
With some members having Canadian citizenship and families, there is certainly a solid foundation for the future of Te Tini a Maui.