The Taniwha

My first post.

Identity at any meaningful level cannot be manufactured or manipulated; it is as much genetic imprint as formative experience. No matter what destructive processes we have gone through, eventually the taniwha stirs in all of us, and we can only be who we are.

Merata Mita in Dennis & Bierenga, 1996, p. 54

Ko ngā Tihi e Rau o Paikea te maunga,

Ko Tauira Mai Tawhiti te waka,

Ko Whangaparaoa te awa,

Ko Kauaetangohia te marae,

Ko Te Whānau ā Kauaetangohia te hapū,

Ko Kauaetangohia te marae,

Ko Te Whānau ā Apanui te iwi,

Ko Teah Anna lee Carlson ahau.

Me about 4 years old

Kia Ora, im 100% Māori and 100% Pākehā. I grew up in two worlds – this is my strength and my lens.

My whakapapa is derived from my Pākehā māmā/mother and a Māori pāpā/father. My māmā has English, Scottish, and French ancestry. My pāpā is Māori, Swedish, English, and Scottish.

I hail from a long line of hardworking farmers, gardeners, hunters, shearers, divers, horse riders and navigators. I first went to kura/school at Wainui Beach in Tairawhiti/Gisborne, then Tokomaru Bay Primary then settled at Tolaga Bay Area School. Our whānau brought a small whare in a small community between Tokomaru and Uawa.

Mangatokerau, on the East Coast, Ngāti Porou was my home for the next 7 years. Mangatokerau is so small it has no shops and just a few whare (houses). The boundaries encompass taniwha kōmanawa, mangakino, and makawakawa pūkaki, meeting the mangatokerau awa in between Hikurangi and Paripoupou puke, within Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Te Whānau a Ruataupare and Ngāti Porou hapū and iwi.

An essential part of growing up on the Coast was living with and on the land – growing, hunting, storing, gathering, and sharing kai. My whānau taught me the importance of manaaki (support, reciprocity, care), aroha (love, concern, compassion), and connecting to people – whānau, whanaunga (kin), and all other forms of life.

As a child growing up in a shearing gang, our life was never dull and always changing. Travelling the world and meeting new people, there were often parties, alcohol, and other drugs.

As the mātāmua (eldest), I grew up fast and took on adult responsibilities at a young age. Rising to this responsibility, I learnt to be adaptable and inventive. I developed a keen sense of analysis and did not hesitate to question parents, teachers, whānau, and the law.

Looking back, my questions were about understanding the world philosophically, exploring the fundamental nature of the reality I lived in, and the unseen. I wanted to learn to understand myself and where I fitted, so that I could be a part of a solution, a movement that served the community and strengthened the marginalised, oppressed, and disadvantaged.

I didn’t get university entrance but was offered a place on the Certificate of University Preparation (CUP) at Waikato University. After a few stumbles and trips, I completed my undergraduate BSocSci degree (major Psychology and Human Development) at Waikato. I then tried my hand at Social Work for two years at Turanga Social Services. At 23, this was an eye opening experience for me. I felt overwhelmed with trying to help our people and struggled to work within all the red tape. I felt as though I was contributing to deficit models of practice rather than practices of emancipation, critical analysis and empowerment.

In 2008, I decided to go back to university to enrol in the Community Psychology Programme at Waikato University as well as completing my honours. The Post Graduate Diploma focused on social justice, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and sustainability. Community Psychology taught me about analysing how the complex array of policies, systems and structures in society are developed and organised, and the impact they have on individuals and communities, especially those who are oppressed, stigmatised or marginalised.

After my honours year I was selected for a summer studentship at the Māori and Psychology Research Unit with Professor Waimarie Nikora. Waimarie advised me to apply for a master’s degree and in 2008 I received the Health Research Council Māori Masters Research Scholarship. 

In 2009, my son Okaire Rios was born at home in Bader – Kirikiriroa, midway through my master’s, and in 2011, I graduated with a Master of Applied Psychology (First Class).

Okaire a few months old

After my master’s I moved to Tāmaki and enrolled in a Master Scuba Dive Course, something I had wanted to do for years. After getting my diving certification, I received an offer to apply for a PhD candidacy with Auckland University.

It was in a similar area to my master’s – understandings and practices of Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease medication use in Māori households. I applied for the Auckland University Doctoral Scholarship and was awarded it. However, after a year at Auckland University at Te Kupenga Hauora my supervisor left and I was unable to find a replacement so had to walk away from the university and the scholarship. Thankfully, I approached Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes at Te Rōpū Whāriki at Massey University and they were more than willing to take me on.

In 2013, I was awarded the Health Research Council Māori Doctoral Scholarship, which made my dreams of completing my PhD more realistic. Midway through my PhD, I gave birth to my youngest son Tawatihitihi o te Rawhitiroa at home in Blockhouse Bay – Tāmaki Makaurau.

Our niece Maggie, Our eldest Wiremu, Okaire and our baby Tawatihitihi o te Rawhitiroa.

In 2018, after years of study, hardship, babies and grit I completed my PhD in Public Health at Massey University, titled “Kaupapa Māori Evaluation: Transforming health literacy”. I evaluated the effectiveness of a cardiovascular disease medicines health literacy intervention for Māori who were involved in the programme, exploring the contribution kaupapa Māori theorising may offer to the evaluation of health literacy activities.

My research promotes reclamation of health literacy as a space for Māori to be themselves; a space that is negotiated, adaptive, and shaped by people, whānau, and communities.

It has been a long journey to discover that I do not have to search for this purpose. The role has been handed to me; it is written in the stories in my whakapapa and is a part of me.

I have worked in hapū and iwi settings, as a social care worker, youth worker, researcher, and evaluator. As a kaupapa Māori researcher/evaluator, I see myself as a translator between the community, stakeholders, organisations, and academia. I locate myself in a space embedded in responsibility and accountability, seeking equity and justice in unjust places.

I envision a future where evaluation is Māori led and mātauranga Māori is the vehicle that is situated as normal and dominates; a future where Māori methods prevail and we support everyone in a pathway of hauora.

Today, I am community psychology trained and practise as a kairangahau/Kaupapa Māori researcher and evaluator.

My work highlights the importance of Māori and Indigenous voices and control with respect to hauora, specifically the design and delivery of health services, qualitative methods, strategy and evaluation.

So all up and some – I am an Indigenous woman, māmā, sister, aunty, artist, story catcher/teller, researcher, evaluator and academic. I draw on these identities to express, connect and articulate Māori and Indigenous kotahitanga/solidarity, mana motuhake/self-determination and aroha/hope.


Published by Tākuta Teah

Indigenous woman, partner, māmā, sister, daughter, aunty, artist, story catcher/teller, researcher, evaluator and academic. I draw on these identities to express, connect and articulate kotahitanga, mana motuhake and aroha.

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