Whakanoa with Haylee Koroi

Here at Hāpai our mission statement is "Oranga Whenua, Oranga Tangata" - This means healthy environments sustain healthy lifestyles. During the month of April, World Earth Day was observed. In honour of this kaupapa, we talked with Haylee Koroi – a taiāo and kai ora advocate in Tāmaki Makaurau. 

Haylee hails from the Far North - From Kaitaia and the valley of Utakura, at the end of the Hokianga. Her passion for the environment has been a lifelong journey, and her work in addressing environmental issues has been a labour of love. Haylee has been involved in both local and national responses to tiaki taiāo, and has represented Aotearoa on the world stage, as a part of Te Ara Whatu. 

Haylee's Mahi with 'He Kai kei Aku Ringa' brings to the forefront the intersection of Kai sovereignty and Kai security and shows how this interplays with a myriad of environmental and social determinants of health issues. 

In this edition, we ask Haylee about her recent mahi as well as her view on the importance of protecting our natural environments. 

So, you started working on a project, which became he kai kei aku ringa?

He Kai Kei Aku Ringa was born amidst the chaos of the first lockdown of 2020 and was based on the whakataukī (proverb), ‘he kai kei aku ringa,’ which translates to mean ‘there is food in my hands.’ Funded by the Health Promotion Agency Te Hiringa Hauora, it started as a co-design process with the aim of informing a resource to support whānau and their pēpī (babies) under two years old. However, the project quickly expanded, growing through a zoom lens and reaching into the homes of 23 whānau.

Initially, it was a kaupapa based on the first 1000 days, as the first 1000 days of a child’s life is really important for their development. Something I related to more than the first 1000 days however was the whakatauki ‘he kai kei aku ringa’. We didn't want to divert from the first 1000 days, but we wanted to broaden it. 'He Kai kei Aku Ringa' really asks 'why aren’t we thinking about 1000 years from now, not just the first 1000 days? Or why aren’t we thinking inter-generationally? Why aren’t we thinking beyond our human relations?

Tell us about He Kai kei Aku Ringa?

The whakatauki really was a guiding framework for us, to call people in. We were talking to whānau and understanding what ‘he kai kei aku ringa’ looked like in their daily lives. If I were to explain it simply, it shows that kai is a medium that helps us be in relationship with different things for example the environment.

What became clear was that the relationships that whānau have with food extend far beyond the ways in which nutrition might support our physical bodies. Our health and wellbeing as individuals is a product of our surroundings and the systems we exist within. Our pēpī are very much a part of the picture, but our understanding of where they fit in, and how we can support their relationships with Māori kai systems up to two years and beyond, became clearer throughout the process. 

The purpose of the videos was to try and be a proxy way of allowing people to be in conversation or expose people to different ways of being in a relationship with food so they could see it as an example of what is possible. Each part of the project is a puzzle piece that helps in the reclamation of our relationship with our environments which sustain our food systems.

What's your hope for this kaupapa?

I hope these videos affirm that what people are doing is enough. Whānau are their own biggest drivers of change and that will always be true, so what I hope is that the videos have exposed them to a different way of being in a relationship with food that might inspire them to extend on how they’re already doing that" 

It really is how you see the world that drives what you do, not what other people tell you necessarily, it’s not how people theorise it’s how you feel and experience the world and how they inform how you see the world. I just want people to see how broad the possibility is of how to be in a relationship is food and to be affirmed in that that what they’re doing does represent something of significance.”

“We launched a couple of weeks ago. The physical resources have been going really well. This isn't really any indication, but we hope that they're making their way to whānau and community who need it”.

You're a strong advocate for the environment, and obviously, you've shown us how deeply connected our kai relationship is with our environment relationship and with World Earth Day being celebrated on the 22nd of April, so to wrap up, we'll ask, what does World Earth Day mean to you?

How we interact with Atua is as diverse as the way in which we interact and have relationships with people. Like we might go for a swim and whakawātea we might go clean up the beach, we might go sailing, those interactions are very humanly so for me it’s about reframing our relationship to Atua and how to interact safely and be better humans, so for me World Environment Day, it would be to think more deeply on how we interact with Atua. The language you use and the way you frame something changes how you interact. We are in a relationship with this Atua and this is what it looks like. I think also recognizing climate change is not separated from kaupapa Māori and that kaupapa Māori have been in existence since time immemorial.