Content warning: This article discusses suicide and mental illness.

Two young Māori are on a mission to raise $6000 to attend the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention conference in New York in July. 

Re: News spoke to nurse and Māori activist Berea Morrison (Ngāruahine, Ngāti Ruanui) and Māori activist Quack Pirihi (Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai) about what it would mean to go to the conference. 

Quack Pirihi. Photo/Jazmin Tainui Mihi.

Berea Morrison. Photo/ Toni Clark.

Te Ahipourewa: What is the Indigenous suicide prevention conference about?

Quack: The Word Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference is a kaupapa which was launched in Rotorua in 2016, hosted by Ngāti Pikiao. 

It invites organisations who work in the suicide prevention [and] postvention space, community organisations, advocates, and sector leaders to come together in talanoa (discussion) to explore shared challenges and our shared learnings.

It's by Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Peoples. 

Te Ahipourewa: Why is it important for you as a young Māori person to attend?

Berea: This is about kotahitanga (unity) not only of tangata whenua, but ngā iwi o te ao (all the tribes of the world). [It’s] about Indigenous people sharing knowledge for the benefit and for the purpose of collective healing from our collective trauma. 

As someone in a space with immense privilege, I see it as my mission to share as much mātauranga to reach as many people as possible.

It’s about putting a line in the sand, one mate (death) is too much, and these statistics are not our whakapapa.

Te Ahipourewa: How does the topic of suicide make you feel? 

Quack: When I was young, I didn't understand why people would do it. 

As I grow older and see the intergenerational impacts of things like poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and so many other things affecting our people, I’ve gained a far clearer understanding of how these things affect our whānau.

I don’t place blame on the whānau or the person anymore, and that’s been a huge learning curve. 

Being surrounded by people with mātauranga Māori and with care and kindness has allowed me to change my whakaaro (thoughts).

Te Ahipourewa: The highest rate of self-inflicted deaths in Aotearoa is in the 20-24 age group. How does this make you feel?

Berea: That transition between adulthood, 18 to 24 is actually a really tough time for rangatahi.

They are the formative years, you're forming your identity. 

There's not enough awhi or tautoko (support) in that transitional time. I think that affects rangatahi.

Te Ahipourewa: Why do you think Māori have higher rates of suspected self-inflicted deaths compared to non-Māori? 

Quack: It’s really hard to view suicide statistics in isolation from other issues that are impacting whānau.

If how people connect to their whakapapa, their well-being, and their sense of health is severed or damaged then it's likely that the health of the people will also be damaged as well.

Te Ahipourewa: What do you think needs to be done in Aotearoa about this?

Berea: We need to continue to inform our people about what has happened to us, why it's happened to us and why we feel so much mamae (hurt).

Te Ahipourewa: How are you fundraising to get there and how can people help?

Quack: [We’re] emailing organisations in this sector to ask for financial support [and] exploring random ideas like raffles. 

[We’re doing] a lot of crowdfunding. 

Te Ahipourewa: What do you hope for in the future?

Quack: An Aotearoa free of mental health barriers for our rangatahi. 

Te Ahipourewa: What would it mean to you to be able to attend?

Quack: It would enable me to sit at the feet of leaders of this sector and use that mātauranga to inform the services and wānanga in Aotearoa.

I think our sector's vision to prevent suicide will only work if we work together.

Berea: It’s about collective healing, and having an opportunity to do that. 

Connecting with other Indigenous Peoples around the world who might have some great, creative solutions that will work here for our people. It's an opportunity to give back to my community. 

I truly believe that when we connect with Indigenous Peoples around the world, we have opportunities for collective healing as a whole because we have shared trauma and therefore we can have shared healing.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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