Matua Mike Takes Top Honours at Recreation Awards

by Bree Arnott

Mike Elkington (Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Toa Rangatira) was the recipient of the Supreme Te Tohu Manu Kura Outdoor Award at the 2022 Recreation Aotearoa Awards held in Nelson.

The Award was in recognition of his mana in the outdoor sector, and for outstanding leadership in outdoor recreation. Known affectionately as ‘Matua Mike’ to the Whenua Iti whānau, he has worked at Whenua Iti Outdoors since 2014. He is a lead kaiako Māori for our kaupapa Māori programmes, reaching participants across Te Tauihu (Top of the South Island). In 2021 this equated to 27 kaupapa Māori programmes, including the Manaaki Tāpoi Cultural Tourism Programmes that he co-designed.

matua mike at the awards night
Matua Mike at the Awards night

Manaaki Tāpoi has become a flagship programme for WIO, the only one of its kind in Aotearoa. The programme celebrates the importance of indigenous tourism, offering NCEA Level 2 and 3 credits. Learning focuses on the interconnectedness of te ao Māori and how this can be interpreted in cultural tourism experiences. For Matua Mike, this has culminated in an enormously positive impact on over 250 Manaaki Tāpoi graduates in the last 8 years, with an impressive average NCEA credit pass rate of 97% for Māori students in 2021 – a stark contrast to the national average NCEA Level 2 pass rate of 71.9% for Māori.

When speaking to Mark, the General Manager at Whenua Iti, about what’s special about Matua Mike’s teachings for rangatahi in our rohe (region), he didn’t hesitate. “Matua Mike’s passion lies in uplifting the mana of tamariki and rangatahi, in particular, rangatahi Māori, teaching them that its not just ‘okay’ to be Māori, but that its ‘exceptional’ to be Māori and to be proud of their whakapapa. He creates a learning environment in which rangatahi Māori can thrive.”

“He creates a learning environment in which rangatahi Māori can thrive”

Matua Mike’s focus is on normalising Māori culture. He supports rangatahi Māori to see that they can aspire and achieve their aspirations as young Māori using Tourism and Outdoor Education as a platform for offering authentic cultural experiences, weaving tikanga throughout outdoor programmes such as mihi whakatau, waiata, karakia, while upholding the mana of te ao Māori.

 “It’s been a journey, but Whenua Iti has been a place where I have been able hone my skills and a platform where I am able to work with a wide reach of young people,” says Matua Mike. “It’s okay to light the spark for young people, but they also need a place to tend the fire. Whenua Iti has a great team that supports ongoing development along a young person’s life journey, helping them to connect with whānau, communities and environments.”

Taylor Bruning, a graduate of the Manaaki Tāpoi programme that Matua Mike developed, has recently returned to WIO under the guidance of Elkington as a rangatahi Māori Cadet to support the facilitation and programme delivery. “Manaaki Tāpoi enabled me to connect to my culture in a way I had not managed in the past,” said Taylor. “I felt proud of who I was and where I was from and able to express that to people back at school where before I had just kept quiet. The bonds I formed with people on the programme were so important to me and gave me a way to move forward in Te Ao Māori and in life.”   

Matua Mike lit up the stage at the Awards night with his humour, compassion and honesty. The Award not only recognizes Matua Mike’s leadership as evidenced by his successful programme development and delivery, but also his mana. He embodies kotahitanga (unity, togetherness) and the spirit of Te Tiriti partnership throughout his mahi with students and colleagues at Whenua Iti Outdoors. “He is exceptional at bringing depth to learning experiences, weaving in kōrerō and whakaaro (ideas) that promote mohiotanga (understanding) of te ao Māori in an accessible and inclusive way,” acknowledges Lara Hania, a colleague of Matua Mike’s on the kaupapa Māori programmes. Hazel Nash, founder of WIO, has known him for over 30 years, and supported the Award nomination. “I was ecstatic to hear that he won. Mike is an absolute taonga to the rangatahi of our region for his unwavering commitment to help them reach their potential. It couldn’t go to someone more deserving.”

We couldn’t agree more, Hazel!

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