For years, Deane Gage lived what most people would think was a pretty good life.
He’d worked hard since leaving school, spent three years playing rugby professionally in Europe and was making good money as a factory manager.
But, he says, there was something missing.
“I grew up in a western world where money was the main goal. I picked up that work ethic from my parents, mum used to work two jobs, dad was always working, so all I knew was to work,” he says.
“I had some big money jobs, and I had some rough jobs as well, but money was always the goal.”
However, as the saying goes, money isn’t everything.
“Going all the way through, there was something missing. I didn’t speak Māori. That’s what I was missing.”
So at the age of 44, Deane – Te Whānau-a-Apanui - enrolled to learn te reo Māori with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and hasn’t looked back.
After reaching diploma level, he has now switched his focus to completing the two-year He Waka Hiringa Master of Applied Indigenous Knowledge programme, with his rangahau into the mātauranga behind gathering kai from the ocean.
“I think it will give people a different perspective of kai gatherers. I wanted to create a tikanga paper that I could pass on to my kids and just to pass on to whānau about how we were taught to gather kai when we were kids. I thought everyone knew how to gather kai, because that’s the way we were brought up. I want to let people understand that this is what you can do when you’re gathering kai. I think COVID-19 made a massive change to that, with all the supermarkets and the takeaways closed, some people had lost that ability to gather kai.”
He says his studies with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa have enabled him to grow as a person.
“This is the gap that’s been filled, it’s that ability to walk in both worlds that I think I was missing,” he says.
Deane is the 2020 recipient of the $3000 He Waka Hiringa Scholarship from the AST Scholarship Trust, which has awarded seven scholarships to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa tauira this year.
Studying with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa has completely changed the way he thinks about and sees the world, he says.
“I’m a lot happier, a lot calmer. My body was in the western world, where I have to pay my mortgage, buy kai and all the rest of it, but my mindset over the last few years has been in a te Ao Māori world,” he says.
“More caring about the wellbeing of people, caring about other people more than myself, making sure everyone is happy, realising that money isn’t everything.”
And while he’s happier today than he was five years ago, Deane also acknowledges that it isn’t always easy making major life changes.
“Five years ago there was no way I was going to do any masters degree, I was too busy being the worker. But I resigned from my job because they wouldn’t let me study. Those are the sacrifices you’re willing to make to make yourself better. If I’m happy doing what I’m doing - which I am – then the value in that sense, I don’t think you can put a price on it. If it’s for the betterment of other people, if it’s for my hapori, hapū, iwi then it’s a win-win. If you can improve yourself, you can improve everyone else.”