National | Te Matatini

Aotearoa’s largest prison rehabilitation foundation prepares for kapa haka regionals


Aroha Noa kapa haka will be one of the 25 groups taking to the stage for Auckland regionals this weekend.

The group is made up of former prisoners who are part of Grace Foundation, New Zealand’s largest rehabilitation and accommodation service.

“We have several different categories whether they are in bail, pre-sentence or remand prisoners,” Grace Foundation chair Ulalei Letele says.

“Those that are on parole, or those that are on home detention. So it’s a coordination of working with the system, so that they understand that kapahaka is very much an integral part of their culture and important to their recovery.”

Piripi Davis and Paddy Flavell from Te Waka Huia are the tutors of the group.

Founded in 2007, Grace Foundation is a non-government-funded organisation that caters for the homeless, single parents, children without parents and former prisoners.

Letele says one of the main challenges has been working with parole officers and timing practices that are within their electronic monitoring parameters.

“They are the hardest of the hard to deal with but they are the most beautiful people you can come across, especially given the opportunity, which they have never had in the past.”

Cody Stewart from Kaikohe is one of the 40 members of the group and is bringing his experience from Rimutaka where he competed the inter-prison competition in 2021.

“Our bracket here is a lot shorter. Our bracket we did down there was 35 minutes long and it was good. We ended up coming second in the whole competition. Waikeria Prison won that one but, yeah, it was a mean experience.”

Letele acknowledges that for now, they are simply “making up the numbers,” but they have a vision to make it to the top six in the near future.

Aroha Nui will take to the stage on Saturday morning at 9:30 am.