Cory James, clinical lead for Ngāti Kahu Social and Health Services Cory James says looking back on his upbringing in his hometown of Ratana Pa has enabled him to better use his skills to help the youth of Te Tai Tokerau.

Mr James, a drug and alcohol counsellor and clinical lead for Ngāti Kahu Social and Health Services in Kaitaia, who works with young people to get them work-ready, said the year-long programme he had just completed with Te Wānanga o Āotearoa in Auckland had given him new skills that would ultimately benefit the people of the North.

The Kaitiakitanga — Postgraduate Diploma in Bicultural Professional Supervision programme was unique, he said, in that it used mātauranga Māori as the core of its supervision curriculum in a range of disciplines. It was aimed at professionals with at least five years' working experience in areas such as social work, health, nursing, midwifery, counselling and education, or in their community.

It terms of his professional development the course had been "massive," but it would also have huge benefits for the people he worked with.

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"I could go on and become a registered and accredited supervisor, and that means people in my area can access me for kaitiakitanga. This then filters down to the mahi that happens in the community," he said.

"At the ground level with our people, it means that we're able to apply some of our tikanga, some of our traditional ways of healing, that is often overtaken by the Western sort."

While Western counselling focused on the problem at hand, a mātauranga Māori approach took a more holistic view.

"We as Māori don't treat things in isolation," he said.

"You don't just fall over and become addicted to meth. There's a long journey that takes place before you get there; there's a reason. So with this kaupapa you would turn around and look back and try and understand why in order to move forward."

The course, which involved monthly trips to noho marae in Auckland, along with online sessions, had led to him incorporating more tikanga into his work.

"I've always valued clinical approaches. I've got a clinical background, and I've always valued it, but I've also valued tikanga. Tikanga is what got me here, and I've seen it work in our people, so I would balance it in the way that I work," Mr James added.

"But doing this kaupapa, it's really tipped things over to the cultural side. Within our culture there are so many healing processes that can heal many aspects of a person, not just one. So we're able to apply some of those tikanga approaches, those holistic approaches of healing."

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One example was as simple as climbing a mountain, which was part of one of the programmes he offered.

"There are so many different aspects to healing when you climb your maunga and understand all of that stuff. From a clinical perspective that might not be a type of healing, but there are clinical bodies of knowledge that I can use to justify why I can now climb up my maunga," he said.

"So I'm using my tikanga approach, and I've noticed some massive changes in the mahi we're doing. There's a bigger picture at play."

Part of that bigger picture was becoming a better counsellor, and looking back at where he came from had made that possible.

"This journey has been one where I've turned around and looked back at why am I the way I am. Where do some of my values come from, my principles? I've been so entrenched in the northern lifestyle it's been good for me to look back at my Ratanatanga and some of the core values within myself and how to apply those into my practice. It's sort of another level of self-awareness, so it's been an awesome journey for me."

He had previously worked in Auckland, but his journey would continue in Te Tai Tokerau.

"There's no turning back. It feels like we're making a difference in our community," he said.

"Down there I was based in West Auckland, and I didn't feel that connection to the community as I do in the North. We can see change around us; it's evident when we walk up the street and we see our young people. We see it."