Sheila Green isn't shy so she's excited to perform kapa haka in front of thousands of people.

She's part of Whangārei group Ngā Taonga Atawhai o Te Tai Tokerau, which is one of 15 from around the country performing in Hamilton tomorrow at Te Anga Pāua o Āotearoa - the inaugural National Kapa Haka Festival for people with intellectual disabilities.

"I'm feeling good," Green said "I'm not shy."

Sally Hume, IDEA Services area manager, said the group was formed nearly four years ago after the service manager at the time identified a need for people to reconnect with te reo Māori.

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"It started really simply. People really enjoyed the song, and then they enjoyed the poi and then as a larger organisation - the northern region from Tauranga up - we recognised that we should celebrate this because everyone had a kapa haka group of some kind. So we had an Auckland festival a couple years ago which grew into the national festival."

Hume said there are about 16 fulltime members of Ngā Taonga Atawhai o Te Tai Tokerau. They practise once a week and perform at rest homes, festivals and different events.

"Over time what we've noticed is that there's not a lot of prompting any more - the actions come naturally, the song comes naturally and they sound fantastic. The festival is a celebration of the people in our community who have an intellectual disability."

Sheila Green and Ngā Taonga Atawhai o Te Tai Tokerau practise for the inaugural National Kapa Haka Festival for people with intellectual disabilities. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Sheila Green and Ngā Taonga Atawhai o Te Tai Tokerau practise for the inaugural National Kapa Haka Festival for people with intellectual disabilities. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Hume said kapa haka has allowed some of the more shy members to come out of their shell. She said Darcy Powell, who passed away a couple of weeks ago, was one member that came to mind.

"He was very quiet, very unassuming, but he was definitely the light and soul of the kapa haka. When we sing Hallelujah at nationals it'll be for Darcy," she said.

Hume said watching the group perform was "moving".

"It is beautiful and it brings tears to your eyes. Credit has to go to the support staff as well because they've just done an amazing job."

Te Anga Pāua o Āotearoa will be held at Claudelands Event Centre in Hamilton.