Pania Tepaiho Marsh, a Maori, is using hunting to motivate and empower the women of New Zealand. For Marsh, hunting is a way to build confidence, and she’s not alone.
Since starting her hunting program, more than 3,500 women have signed on to her class’ waiting list for her free two-day courses. She calls it “Wahine Toa Hunting,” which means “strong and brave women hunting,” in Te Reo, the Maori language.
Marsh seeks out women who are not only looking to learn the skills necessary to hunt, but who also want to improve parts of their lives. Her classes cater to single mothers, survivors of trauma, and women on welfare.
For these women, hunting is a better way to put food on tables, but it also helps them take better control of their lives.
“Within the group, a lot of them, they’re stuck,” Marsh told the Guardian. “Can you afford to drop your kid off at school and get petrol, or do you afford groceries that week? You feel like a failure.”
“So if you’re constantly thinking so low of yourself all the time, and then you’re getting abused, or you have no money, how can you flourish mentally? You just give them a chance, and you just believe in them that they can do this,” said Marsh.
“We don’t get taught how to change a tire, we don’t get taught how to use a screwdriver, all these little basic things,” she said. “I want to break that dependency. When families fall apart, the kids so often end up with the women. We need to make sure those women — especially in an economic crisis like COVID — that these women are fine, that they can still feed their kids.”
Marsh, who was in a bad relationship in the past, struggled to take control over her own life as a younger woman. Now 38, she is married to Haaka Marsh, a rifleman in the New Zealand Defence Force. Together they raise five kids.
Marsh wasn’t always a hunter, but she saw how happy her husband Haaka was after spending his weekends “out bush,” hunting goat, and deer with friends. Goat and deer are considered pests in New Zealand and both are invasive species.
“I noticed how happy and fulfilled he was, and how centered it made him,” said Marsh. “And I said ‘I want this, I want to fill our freezers’ so he said ‘I’ll teach you’.”
“He gave me a priceless skill,” said Marsh. “I’ll never be dependent on anyone else again.”
Marsh didn’t expect Wahine Toa Hunting to be what it is today when she started it. She just wanted to share what she’d found in herself with other women.
Wahine Toa Hunting now has an 8-year waiting list, though the couple says they’re looking to bring in sponsors and sell merchandise to prop up the free classes and keep growing.
“We drive up to a hut that’s 120 years old. No cell phones, no, kids, no wifi — it’s just your beers, your sisters, the fireplace and korero,” which is Maori for conversation. “It’s a beautiful, non-distracting bonding time.”