Meet our new Rangatahi Coordinator Leah Watt
Leah Watt, who is one half of our all-new Tuia Te Papa team, sums up the “isolating” challenges for rangatahi wāhine and non-binary beautifully: “You’re trying to work out your place in society and challenge it at the same time,” she says. “You’re trying to pull down the patriarchy but it can feel like you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Of Ngāti Ranginui descent with affiliations to Te Tairāwhiti, Scotland and England, Leah brings a wealth of understanding, deep whakaaro and lived experience to the guiding work of Rangatahi Coordinator. Three years ago, she had dropped out of her BA study, and didn’t think she was going to go back. “I thought ‘ Western university isn’t for me’. I’d picked up psychology [as a subject] and wasn’t enjoying it, it was competitive, not holistic.” She enrolled in a reo Māori immersion course instead: “It was the first year of Covid so we were 9-3 on zoom – but I made it through!” In future, she and her partner are hoping to move up north and learn the reo of his Iwi (Ngāpuhi).
Now in her last year majoring in Māori Development at AUT, Leah sees cultural identity as central to good mental health for Māori. “A lot of rangatahi today don’t know where they are from, and why they are in the situation they are today.” Some of the explanation is the dishonouring of te Tiriti – which Leah describes, using her “Christian lens”, as a “broken covenant in the land”. Plus, more positively, “part of mental health is knowing who you are where you’re from, and being connected to your tīpuna.”
Her own practices to maintain good health include journaling and making sure she sees the sunrise on the moana at least once a month “to whakatau, to settle the stuff I don’t even know I’m carrying.” One of her favourite activities is surfing – “going out to Tangaroa” – which she was introduced to via Restoke, a surfing programme for people dealing with mental distress. “I was terrified of the ocean – I thought ‘it looks way too hard!’ But we had instructors with us, so that gave me a safety net to learn. Friends are learning too. We started at Piha, and I love Piha, but our go-to is Muriwai – it’s calmer with fewer people.”
Leah also works for RPE – Rape Prevention Education. “In church settings you see a lot swept under the rug, including sexual abuse. It’s a heavy topic, but I really like the prevention side of it. Planting seeds of what consent is – it’s simple stuff but a lot of teenagers don’t know that. Even myself, I didn’t know what that was.”
Leah grew up by Puketāpapa (Mt Roskill), and now lives nearby in Royal Oak with good friends. The youngest of three sisters, she is looking forward to becoming an aunty for the first time in the next few months. “This will be the first baby since my kuia who will grow up with the reo, being spoken to in te reo, and by both parents. It’s really exciting! This is the dream I have for our people: for our taonga to be restored to its rightful place in the next generations.”