Still are warriors

The Haka Warriors program is connecting Pacifika youth with their roots. Glenn Cullen reports.

A group of islander girls and boys prepare to perform the haka A group of islander girls and boys prepare to perform the haka
Image: Connecting to their culture: Pacifika students at Evans High School are part of the Haka Warriors program.

It may be most associated with the all-conquering All Blacks, but the spine-tingling strains and thunderous moves of the haka can be frequently heard and seen across Sydney public schools.

Part of the ‘Haka Warriors’ program developed by the PCYC in conjunction with schools in the Blacktown area, the Pacific Islander community, and NSW Police, the cultural phenomenon does more than just entertain.

With substantial numbers of students in the area coming from New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands, the program offers a sense of community; helping to develop leadership skills and elicit positive behavioural and emotional change.

It’s something teacher and Pacifika co-ordinator Kimberly Celeban has become acutely aware of at Evans High School in Blacktown.

“We’ve seen increased engagement with just school in general from some of our kids, increased attendance and we’ve seen some really shy kids be able to step out of their comfort zone and really build their own confidence and leadership skills,” Ms Celeban said.

Now in its fourth year, 15 schools in the broader area participate in the program which also includes an annual competition.

Evans High School has 27 students involved in the program, and as of this year girls make up almost half that number.

They hold a weekly session that comprises of a core haka as well as a range of other island dances and hymns.

“We really value the partnership with PCYC to deliver the haka program in our school,” Evans High School principal Nerina Pretlove said, adding that teachers Ms Celeban and Amyleigh Elliott were critical in supporting the program at the school.

“It is a cultural focus point for our Pacifika students from both the high school and our Intensive English Centre (IEC).

“Participation in the program builds strong relationships, teamwork and leadership skills and supports the settling in of our newly arrived students in the IEC.”

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