When Mātauranga Māori and western knowledge are equally valued the result is something outstanding. The Bush Kura is a local kaupapa that shows us just what can grown from a shared understanding of te ao Māori and Pākehā worldviews..
Run by Keelan Poi and his Dad, the Bush Kura adheres to a "military structure delivered in a coastie way." Keelan set up the charitable trust with the aim of giving rangatahi a break from the digital world and an opportunity to reconnect with the whenua and te taiao. The Bush Kura holiday programme is the charity's main drawcard, offering youth the chance to achieve missions by working alongside Army team leaders and local pirihimana, learning about bush kai, the stars, navigation and survival skills.
And there's free range fun too, like spotlight. I can't think of a better place to play spotlight than in the ngahere at night. The kids love it, Keelan tells me, and I can tell that he loves it too. He speaks with passion and care for the community, and for such a driven guy, he is equally laid back and easy to talk to.
He’ll make you feel welcome. And everyone is welcome at Bush Kura, all ethnicities, girls, boys, gender fluid, it doesn’t matter. Although it was designed for 'at risk' youth, Keelan believes it's good to have a mix of rangatahi from all walks of life. There is good learning in getting to know other people's ways of being. On top of the holiday programme there are specific courses rangatahi can sign up for. The first is taste testing. Youth come from all corners of Aotearoa to get away from their screens and camp for 3 days while learning about bush kai. The next step up is the 4 day Pukeko course, which is about bushcraft, basic survival, navigation and a korero about the stars. Then there's Tuatara, 5 day camping, tramping and pūrākau up and around Maunga Hikurangi. And, lastly, Taniwha, which is 8 days of tramping and camping around Ruatōrea.
Keelan is also the regional supervisor of the NZ Māori Ranger cadets, Heteri ā Nuku (Guardian’s of Papatūānuku). He is ex-military himself and previously served in logistics. His whakapapa is Ngāti Porou and Ngā puhi so naturally he has given back to the community in Ruatorea and Tairāwhiti. He is the creator and chief of the increasingly popular Maunga to Moana race, based on the East Coast.
I have to take a breath at this stage because there's more, and I don't know how he fits it all in.
Keelan works alongside EIT running whenua based permaculture and food forest courses, again with a mix of maramataka/matauranga and western garden philosophy. He offers workshops on how to butcher and process meat, from the paddock to the plate. The majority of people who sign up to those courses are whanau groups, passing practical knowledge down through the generations.
Keelan and his wife have their own slice of paradise out the back of Te Karaka where they practice what they preach with a permaculture style garden. He says they’ve retired a couple of paddocks to plant with native forest... but that’s a story for another time, and I promise I’ll tell it. Food and native forests are my favourite subjects so instead of talking his ear off during the interview, Keelan has kindly invited me to visit them at harvest time.
In the meantime check out their YouTube channel Whenua based Whānau https://youtube.com/@Whenuabasedwhanau?si=oD9yME3PnoB6qmn6
To get involved in Bush Kura - it's easy to sign up online, and nominate rangatahi or self nominate at Bush Kura https://thebushkura.co.nz/
Or you can find them on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/profile.php/?id=100057202339612
Story by Aimee Vickers Images supplied.