Reflections on Mana Over Meth, with Hinemoa Elder (Ngāti Kurī, Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngāpuhi).
You can watch the Loading Docs film above.
Hands digging in the dirt, an image that opens up a cascade of other pictures in my mind.
Fingers combing out space between the grasses. Pulling apart their filigree roots and revealing what is just under the surface. The clumps of earth feeling cool and damp against the skin. Particles crumbling between fingers. How smoothly these earth crumbs fall away, returning back to their mothership, Papatūānuku. Fine dusty smudges left lingering behind, clinging to the skin. Tiny kisses find their way under nails, into the creases around knuckles and veins. Drawing their own earthy tāmoko into us, naming the lineage back home to our original Māmā.
This is how we enter the worlds of pain and of healing. This is how we are introduced to this woman's story. A story we can all see ourselves in. We recognise these cycles and their opportunities for growth through the eyes of Māori women.
"Me aro koe ki te hā o Hineahuone." Pay heed to the digniity of women. A famous whakataukī harking back to the first human, a woman, created from the earth. I picture her shape coming together in the soil. Bringing the form of our tūpuna wāhine into reality. The detailed beauty of her form. Mirroring the strong, sinuous curves of surrounding hills and valleys, reminiscent of the nearby lapping waves of Hinemoana, eyes reflecting the Ōturu moon.
Its a hard watch, this documentary from Holly Beckham (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Rangi).
I have to admit to more than a few sobs escaping my chest.
We are forced to face some hard truths. We witness the sexualisation and sexual abuse in our communities. No dignity for women and girls available here. We see first hand the impact of the loss of our cultural values and priorities. We witness the journey of self-loathing from sexual abuse to methamphetamine use. The numbing power of the drug creates a new internal prison. Meth becomes the only thing that matters. Like oxygen. Locking her, and us with her, in a husked out, almost empty shell of a body. Jess is gradually fading away inside. Almost gone. Meth has almost completely taken her out.
Jess and Holly's story forces us to truly listen. And it's a full-body listen. Not just with our ears. Absorbing a specific woman's story, we bear witness and cannot help but see ourselves in her shoes. We see ourselves, and other women we know in those eyes.
What is importantly different here is that this is a story about reclaiming mana. And that's what we need to pay attention to. We have become used to stories about people who have had their lives destroyed by methamphetamine defined by that alone for the rest of time. Most of the stories I see about methamphetamine have pictures of a meth pipe, and usually smoke billowing upward with some white-looking crystals on a dish. These are the experiences presented as the headline, as some sort of fixed part of people's lives. Same goes for those affected by mental illness. And of course we see these illnesses and methamphetamine use hunting together. These experiences drawing more stereotyped repudiation, racism and ostracism from many in our communities. The function of these immutable narratives is to freeze people away in stories where they can never be free from illness and drug use. Why do these narratives even exist I wonder? At least in part, this seems to relate to the desire to create a "them and us". A defence mechanism attempting to magically protect some in feeling distinctly separate from those who are ill and affected by such trauma. In effect, positioning those affected as responsible for their own trauma. That is victim-blaming. That is inaccurate. That dehumanises and grossly limits the possibilities for people to see themselves differently, within whakapapa, within their mana.
Bringing mana into the story means that as Māori we can connect to something that is indestructable within us and that connects us together across whakapapa. Mana is the inexhaustible fire that fuels life-affirming thoughts. Mana pushes our reclaimed ways of thinking way up through the mind-garden into the light.
What is so powerful here is we see undeniable recovery and healing. We see this from our Māori perspective. We see the potency of Māori cultural resources.
Mana, an unquenchable source of potency and connection. Often described as having a range of interwoven aspects, mana atua, mana tūpuna, mana whenua, mana tangata.
For me this short documentary highlights the importance of mana in our identities. Our sense of knowing who we are and where we are from. Our connection to Papatūānuku, as whare tangata, as women. As people whose placenta, our whenua, bears that name for a reason. This internal whenua returning to be buried in our traditional lands to strengthen those bonds.
Seeing these recognisable hands, our own hands, splitting opening our world of dirt and opening up growth, revealing the mana that was always there.
Keep watching and listening right to the end of the credits. We are treated to the commanding voice of Rangimarie Naida Glavish reciting the famous prophecy of Aperehama Taonui from 1883. A fitting note to both end this special story and to take action.
Facts about Meth use in Aotearoa
Some facts about methamphetamine use in Aotearoa, drawn from a paper that I recently contributed to as a co-author for think tank, The Helen Clark Foundation.
·The New Zealand Health Survey 2020/21 found that 1.2 per cent of the adult population, or 40,000 people, have used methamphetamine (or other amphetamines) at least once in the last year. There is good reason to think that this survey under-reports use. People interviewed came from "households". And this approach may miss people who are transitory or often not at home, and it does not include people in prison. In addition, some people may not feel comfortable speaking openly about their illegal drug use in the context of a government survey.
·People who use methamphetamine at least monthly tend to be in their mid-30s, more likely to be male (57 per cent) and are more likely to be Māori (38 per cent).
·Māori are an increasingly significant group using methamphetamine. Twenty-two per cent of the people who used methamphetamine frequently in 2006 were Māori, this increased to 38 per cent in 2015.
·Te Ara Oranga is a programme designed to reduce methamphetamine use and harms. The approach is one of strengthening collaborative social wellbeing. This addresses the interwoven harmful consequences of methamphetamine use for all impacted, recognising methamphetamine use does not affect individuals, it affects whānau and whole communities. The programme works through effective relationships between and with Iwi, Police, health services, and non-governmental organisations. In this way issues of supply and demand, and specific culturally meaningful treatment for whānau, alongside community education and health promotion can be effectively modified. Destigmatisation is a big part of the kaupapa. Educating doctors and other health workers to better understand whānau affected by methamphetamine is also a crucial element.
·Evaluations of Te Ara Oranga have found it to be effective since its inception in Northland in 2016. The programme is now expanding to the Eastern Bay of Plenty. In our paper, we call for it to be expanded across Aotearoa.