This is the final issue of the Ngā Tautohe a Rangiriri, an occasional newsletter concerning an iwi/hapū-inspired research project called Te Kawa Waiora. The purpose of this project is to explore the iwi, hapū, whānau and marae contribution to improving the Wairoa River, its tributaries, and its environs. This will be our final newsletter for this project
Rangiriri is a taniwha in the Wairoa River, and he was one of the original protestors objecting to its deterioration. Hence, we have called this newsletter Ngā Tautohe a Rangiriri, the protests of Rangiriri. Our research, this newsletter, and the collected voices of the hau kāinga of the Wairoa River continue his fervent protest as we aim to return health and mauri to our river.

Just as the river starts as a small stream and flows to the ocean, so our project flows and expands with increasing energy and purpose.

“Mourning the loss of the sacred”
At the end of this formal mahi exploring the health and mauri of the Wairoa River, its people and its surrounding areas, it’s time to reflect on what we found.

That story isn’t a totally happy one. Although we can be proud of the work undertaken to deliver Te Kawa Waiora research, we have to acknowledge that what it ultimately showed was a people and environment thirsting for a very different path to a very different future. The big question now is whether that future can be realised.

There were three big findings from the research, which was released as a full and final report by Dr Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, Reconnecting Northland and the research committee on 17 June, at an event in Whangārei. Each finding has two sides to it -

  • There’s a deep thirst and excitement for the recovery of traditional knowledge, but this arises from an understanding that so much has been lost already.

  • There’s a strong focus on reducing the fragmentation caused by generations of use and misuse of the river system and the whenua that surrounds it, but this arises from an understanding that this important awa and it's many rivers and streams has been hurt badly over the years.

  • There’s a deep skepticism among tangata whenua communities about the ability of Crown-led processes and organisations (like local government) to solve the real problems of the natural world, which motivates and energises tangata whenua to do things differently. But, this arises from an understanding that years of underinvestment, bureaucracy and misunderstanding have gone before, while things have only gotten worse.

  • The question now is, what next?
    Resourced Kaitiaki Network
    It sounds good, but what is it? The report comes to the conclusion that the only way back for tangata whenua and their awa is work that’s led by those who whakapapa to the area and can drive grassroots action alongside their communities. There have been too many attempts at top down approaches that haven’t worked, so a model based on indigenous knowledge and deep care must be given an opportunity to change the river’s fortunes.

    In each word in the phrase, there’s important connotations -

  • Resourced means paid for, at the right level, in a sustainable way that allows tangata whenua to plan and staff the approach properly and comfortably.

  • Kaitiaki means deep care for a place that tangata whenua more than love, are more than a part of - that they are one-and-the-same-as.

  • Network means a connectedness and collectivism that is natural in Te Ao Māori but not as common in the Crown-led models that are usually used for “conservation”.

  • A major part of Te Kawa Waiora was ensuring that the communities who participated in the research were able to build the skills and capacity to continue their own discovery. This will be the key to ensuring that the findings can translate into action.

    Further reading
    If you haven’t caught up on the report already, you can find it at Reconnecting Northland’s website, here.

    A story about the project and the findings of the research can be found here.

    Once again, the research team and Reconnecting Northland would like to thank all the whānau, marae communities and hapū that participated in the research. We could not have done it without the commitment you all made to come on the journey with us.

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