In Michael Naera's whānau you had three career options growing up; builder, singer or health. Devastated by the grief of having many people in his hapū, Ngāti Pikiao, die by suicide, Naera chose the health direction.

For the past 10 years he has used his position to be a translator between the medical and Māori worlds to try and get better care for those suspicious of the healthcare system.

Now, having made huge strides within the Rotorua community, the passionate mental health advocate is ready for a change. Leah Tebbutt sits down with him to discuss his next direction.

After 10 years of service to communities, whānau and iwi, mental health advocate Michael Naera has closed his door and is walking into a new area of change.

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The project leader for Kia Piki te Ora, the Ministry of Health's national Māori suicide prevention programme at Te Runanga o Ngāti Pikiao Trust will soon take up his new position at the Mental Health Foundation.

"It was really difficult to actually hand over my resignation.

"It is an awesome job to work in and you get to work with everyone from the Prime Minister across to uncle who is working at the pā."

Naera dedicated part of his life to the organisation and is now moving on to create high-level policy while also engaging with ministers, iwi and all providers around New Zealand.

Michael Naera has worked for the Te Runanga o Ngati Pikiao Trust and now heads to a new role at the Mental Health Foundation.

"It was time for a change. I got to the stage that it [suicide prevention programme] needs new blood and a fresh look from a rangatahi perspective to create a different kind of change to what I've done.

"I really saw me in the role and the changes I could make. You need someone that has come from community to go into those positions."

After seeking to be the help he needed when his whānau were stricken with the grief of suicide, Naera has come a long way from where he started and he believes the world has too.

"There is a misconception that you had to bury your loved ones outside the cemetery if they took their life. The tikanga was that you go from the marae and because you took your life early and God didn't take your life you skipped the church.

"It is starting to change but a lot of people around the country still believe it."

Michael Naera will remain a familiar face around town as he hopes to only travel when necessary for his new job. Photo / File
Michael Naera will remain a familiar face around town as he hopes to only travel when necessary for his new job. Photo / File

In his time at the trust, Naera got the ball rolling on the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference which resulted in the Turamarama Declaration Sir Mason Durie authored.

And although he's quietly proud of this achievement, it's the connections with people in his community that are his ultimate highlights.

"I got to work with the elder's council.

"The wealth of knowledge that they have, and the pleasure I had to sit there and listen. It was an honour.

"Another highlight is being with our bereaved whānau across the DHB. Being part of their lives, being part of their stories and crying, laughing."

Lakes district health board Māori health general manager Phyllis Tangitu said Naera had been the "go to" person when whānau and communities needed someone to talk to.

"He is a champion for suicide prevention, support and building community resilience through wānanga and kōrero.

"Although he is leaving his role with Te Runanga o Ngāti Pikiao, we know that his connection, support, and commitment to his whānau, hapū, iwi and communities will still be there."