He’s previously worked with prisoners and people dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. Most recently facilitating men’s and women’s programmes for Te Utuhina Manaakitanga Residential Rehabilitation and Probation. A far cry from the mischievous teenager who was heading down the wrong path.
Hunia says he needed someone to tell him to pull his head in and figured the army would provide the discipline he was after.
“The army teaches you how to be a good person – the training and weapon handling’s secondary. They teach you how to be a good you, learn your background, find out where you’re from and how you grew up. You’re with a big whanau who care for you.’’
After 25 years in the army and security, spending months in different countries every year, Hunia left to focus on his family. However, his military background enabled him to take on challenging roles where he could break down barriers.
One of his favourite jobs was at Waikeria Prison, facilitating men’s programmes based on ‘te whare tapa whā’ – the four sides of Māori health. He says it was about ensuring prisoners got food not only for their tinana (body), but also for their hinengaro (mind).
“That’s where the emotional and the wairua side come in, and then we focus on the whānau.
“When I started at Te Waiariki Purea Trust, I sat down with a guy who had no idea what hinengaro and wairua were. I drew a line on a whiteboard and said, ‘where do you see your partner?’. He pointed to the top of the board and said, ‘she’s up here’. I said, ‘where do you see yourself?’, and he pointed beneath it. I asked, ‘what’s wrong with that picture?’. He goes, ‘oh, I’m down below’. When I asked him where he wanted to be, he said on the same level.
“You ask them what love is and they don’t know. Simple things like that. They become emotional because they’ve never talked about it. But their eyes light up when you tell them about the good things out there.
“I take whānau members up into the ngahere and ocean to reground themselves. On our way we gather pikopiko, watercress, and kaimoana. Papatūānuku provides for us.”
Hunia likes to incorporate the stories of our tupuna in his work. He says there is a whakapapa to everything we do in life.
“With a lot of our atua stories, they talk about Mataora – being a change agent. So, like a lot of those stories, I talk to our people about where they’re going. Some of them ask for a word to describe when they’re feeling down. I say, ‘do you know what whakamā is?’. They say, ‘yes, a bit depressed.’ And then we talk about whakamā around how Hine-tītama found out the man she thought was her husband, was actually her father. That’s when she fled to the underworld and changed her name to Hine-nui-te-pō.
“There are so many stories, I make sure when I tell them I get it right. People say, ‘oh, she’s the goddess of death.’ But she’s the keeper of our wairua – making sure we’re alright on the other side.
“We have our own beautiful stories here – Hinemoa and Tutanekai, and others. They’re all around so the rongoa’s there. It’s in our whakapapa.”