Ko te tiakitanga me te whakaoranga – protection and restoration in the age of changing with our climate

Share this:

Given cumulative climate change impacts for Aotearoa New Zealand and the world, we know our locally generated, Māori-led, evidence-based, and action-orientated research over decades of effort, is enhancing taonga (treasured) species and starting to realise the long-held visions of kaumatua (elders) and healers to overturn the damage of unsustainable economies and polluting farming practices. However, with increased rainfall inundation, duration, frequency and intensity of flooding events, and the changing surface and groundwater levels, we ask – How can Māori landowners transition from agricultural land-based to more water-based land uses, which enhance taonga species including tuna and inanga? This lasted research is centred on a southwest coastal region between the Ōhau and Waikawa Rivers of Horowhenua, on Te Ika a Maui (North Island) and aims to accelerate more action-orientated engagements over the climate change vulnerabilities faced by our communities at the local coastal level.

Since 2002 our hapū-led collaborative teams have been revegetating a coastal wetland forest and acting earnestly for the sake of coastal fresh waterways to sea. From 2017 we presented a climate change adaptations toolkit at exhibitions[1] for the coast between Ōhau and Waikawa Rivers that spans two Māori farming incorporations and whanau coastal blocks. More recently we assessed the risks of our climate change challenges with recommendations to diversify farming economies and how our coastal Māori farms operate. Guided by ancestral kōrero tuku iho (local knowledge of place) from a hau kainga (principal home base), these community-orientated approaches aim to be sustainable and enhance local wellbeing. We underpin all our climate change research work on local knowledge of place as Mātauranga Māori or Māori indigenous knowledge, whilst working alongside a range of sciences for long-term gain. Our people of Ngāti Tukorehe laid out vision statements for the sake of our mokopuna (next generations) and Te Taiao (natural environment), therefore we act collectively and accordingly to the tikanga (values and principles) that derive actions from these visions and cultural precepts.


Cultural precepts to live by

To briefly explain some of these precepts, the foremost is Whakapapa – a Māori genealogical reference system that highlights intricate kinship interrelationships and inter-dependencies between all things, from the cosmological, environmental entities and elements to the human and non-human. Our Iwi and Hapū retain the right to exercise Tino Rangatiratanga or the ability to self-determine futures within tribal regions according to culture, kawa (protocols) and tikanga (correct behaviours). Each Hapū (collective of family groups) acknowledges Mana as prestige, empowerment, and leadership emerging from a ‘grounded in place’ perspective. To this end too, Mana derives directly from land and waterways[2] as has been recently enacted and recognised by the legal ancestral personage applied to the Whanganui River. When exercising active Kaitiakitanga as care, guardianship of local resources and interactions with humans for sustainable futures, Hapū emphasise the principle of Mana Taonga too. This precept maintains cultural connection to everything treasured and valued, including all elements of the natural world. Mana Taonga is ultimately a protective principle, which finds further contemporary expression within the concepts of Mana Whenua and Mana Tiriti.

To explain these further, it was during my time as principal investigator for the Manaaki Taha Moana: Enhancing Coastal Ecosystems for Iwi and Hapū (MTM) from 2010 to 2015 that our research team honoured these values to help our Hapū determine new collaborative models of thinking, acting, and existing differently upon our lands today, guided deeply by the ancestral and in partnership with Tangata Tiriti for exacting better futures for ourselves, and in turn for all communities. Therefore, the precepts of Mana Whenua and Mana Tiriti were the basis upon which to combine contemporary art, culture, design/landscape architecture and sciences in order to create solutions for living more sustainably on Papatūānuku, our earth mother. Mana Whenua also applies to Ahi Kaa or peoples of place who keep the metaphoric home fires alight as symbols of long-term occupation and resource use rights. In keeping such home place fires alive, these intergenerational bases benefit future generations, despite all-pervasive competing interests and long legacies of cultural disassociation to place wrought by colonisation. The concept of Mana Tangatarecognises the self-worth of Hapū and Iwi as an ongoing influence across Aotearoa New Zealand. In many ways, Hapū and Iwi take charge, exercise leadership and manifest change for future generations. Lastly, but importantly, Mana Atua acknowledges an adherence to spiritual dimensions experienced between peoples, environmental elements, related entities, and intangible realities. Being guided by these tika or right ways to act, our kaitiaki or environmental guardians work extremely hard to fulfil responsibilities and obligations for the sake of our lands and waterways and the health of our next generations.

Figures 1
Figures 2

Oblique aerial image including Tararua mountains to sea, with Lake Waiwiri (Papaitonga) to the left, the Ōhau River (midway with Ōhau meander), revegetating coastal dune wetlands along coast to the Waikawa River and Waikawa coastal village. Note sedimentation in sea after large flooding event on 16 July 2021. Aerial photography by Lawrie Cairns, Palmerston North, 31 July 2021.


Phase 3 Manaaki i ngā taonga i tukua mai e ngā tupuna: investigating action-oriented climate change transitions to water-based land uses that enhance taonga species.

There are many reports[3]  about our localised action-orientated contributions over the years, enacted not only for the sake of our Māori cultural survival overall, but also to contribute to a greater global environment under threat. Current sustainable competitive indexes[4] amplify how action is still critically overdue, as the global natural environment continues to take a hit.

Manaaki i ngā taonga i tukua mai e ngā tupuna refers to the prestige emanating from the care of treasured species based on ancestral knowhow. Īnanga is treasured as taonga species to Iwi and Hapū and well known to many areas along the west coasts of Aoteaora New Zealand. Our explorations of Māori place and our views about the climate crisis are expressed and exercised via the collaborative research leadership developed within Kei Uta Collective for the sake of our coastal region. This diverse research group draws upon the skill sets of: kaumatua (elders’) understanding of treasured resources from a Mātauranga Māori or place-based relationship between the human and nonhuman. Our Iwi researchers (Huhana, Moira and Aroha) have brought in leading ecologists, landscape architects, indigenous fisheries experts, ecological economists, fluvial geomorphologist, and climate change experts with 40 years’ experience[5] to work with us. Kei Uta Collective has been increasing the quality and range of information to Iwi and Hapū on climate change and its impacts on freshwater fisheries via visual mediums of contemporary indigenous and non-indigenous art and design, which have become our most powerful educational tools – exhibitions as research methods. At a local level, these visual technologies – combined with science – are effectively communicating to our people what climate change is and what effective climate change action might look like in our local communities. Since 2015, we have developed robust adaptation strategies, assessed risks to our Māori agricultural economies, and we are currently enhancing taonga species’ habitat further by presenting co-designed implementable plans for consultation. The current Kei Uta team[6] focussed on one of the globe’s shared planetary limits: biodiversity loss due to climate change. In Kuku, we are experiencing diminishing freshwater fisheries for a range of galaxiids, īnanga, kōkopu, and kōaro, some of which are already classified as ‘At Risk of being Threatened’.

While īnanga habitat restoration and protection of whitebait spawning areas have been underway since 2010, we know today that the lower tidal reaches of the Ōhau River and the adjacent land, which is currently used for intensive dairying agriculture, are extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts. These impacts include sea level rise, associated saltwater intrusion inland up the river and into shallow groundwater, and the increased magnitude and frequency of flood events. These climate change impacts are not only affecting the productive potential of the agricultural land, but also the lifecycle and mauri of īnanga taonga species. Therefore, our adaptation strategy was focused on the most vulnerable low lying agricultural land on the true left bank of the lower Ōhau River. We recommend that this dairy farming land be converted to recreated constructed wetland habitats.

Figure 3: Mercia Abbott, Māori Masters of Design student and her close to final schematic diagram, created with guidance from Dr Rebecca Eivers.

Therefore, we have designed diverse areas of spawning habitat critical for supporting the complete lifecycle of īnanga (whitebait). The outcome[7] is a sequence of created wetland ponds connected to the Ōhau River in two places via an upstream connection facilitating freshwater flow through the wetland, while the downstream brackish water will enter the wetland system during high tide phases. Tidal influence is critical to īnanga as they spawn in the riparian vegetation at, or just above, the saltwater wedge (the point where the freshwater meets the saltwater from the sea) during the king tides of autumn. The sequence will be strategically placed in the most unproductive areas of farmland, whilst maintaining connection to the awa (river) and the moana (sea) to ensure the full tidal cycle occurs throughout them. They will be practically maintained and adapted to accommodate changes in sea level and associated changes in the location, with the extent of saltwater wedge and tides driven by lunar cycles and weather pressure systems. Pond systems will also be strategically placed to give the best possible protection from the destructive forces of high flows in the Ōhau River during flood events.  The anticipated lateral extent of flood waters, the height of flood flows, and the frequency of flood events have been informed by climate change modelling carried out in the earlier phases of this project.  Protection of the wetland pond system(s) from flood events will be most critical during spawning and egg gestation for īnanga from around March to the end of May. The final design for the wetland pond system(s) ensures bank and bed levels are accurately created to allow flows from the upstream awa and the brackish water tides to reach riparian areas. Construction of ponds is relatively straightforward given they will be dug into an existing paddock, with no, or minor effects on the environment. As sea levels continue to rise, our aim is to ensure sustained mahinga kai (food gathering areas’) values for our hapū/shareholder community into the future, with design concepts and models recreated further upstream or inland of the Ōhau River to ensure continued adaptation and survival of taonga species. Following the success of these wetland pond system(s), we share this knowledge and experience with other Hapū facing similar climate change challenges.

Figure 4: Mercia Abbott’s ponding system diagram based on Dr Rebecca Eiver’s expertise.


Figure 5: Mercia Abbott’s revegetated ponding systems for īnanga (whitebait) by the Ōhau River

As highlighted in the aerial images and almost final designs, it is our responsibility via values and principles and concerted action-orientated research to enhance remaining natural integrity between our rohe (ancestral region) from the mountains to the sea, and between the Ōhau and Waikawa Rivers in Horowhenua. With strong implementable co-designed plans under consultation, Ngāti Tukorehe are genealogically related to this small rural community of Kuku. We are getting our ‘houses in order’ to buffer against increasing vulnerabilities of climate change and biodiversity loss and to improve future generations’ wellbeing. We continue to be transformative on the ground in the promise that Aotearoa New Zealand with its two cultures – indigenous (Tangata Whenua, the original peoples of this land by right of first discovery) and settler (Tangata Tiriti, by right of the partnership generated by the Treaty of Waitangi) – might finally acknowledge how valuable Māori knowledge systems, values, and cultural precepts are to everything the government says and does.[8] Within a wider pluralistic society, Māori cultural values should ground all environmental revitalisation and resilience projects. These values are fundamental to maintaining healthy identities and to increasing cultural and natural wellbeing for Māori and the wider communities.



[1] See report on exhibitions as research method at:

deepsouthchallenge.co.nz/?s=Adaptations+strategies AND


[2] Durie, T., et al., 2017, Ngā Wai o te Māori: Ngā tikanga me ngā Ture Roia /The Waters of the Māori: Māori Law and State Law, Prepared for the New Zealand Māori Council, January 2017.

[3] See Endnotes for full list of relevant links for our projects since 2010.

[4] As highlighted in the latest Global Sustainable Competitiveness Index Report 2021, sustainable competitiveness is the ability to generate and sustain inclusive wealth without diminishing the future capability of sustaining or increasing current wealth levels. However, we are still far away from a green, inclusive, circular society. In an Australian and New Zealand context too unfortunately, we can expect further decline of the natural environment in the future. The methodology section of this report outlines sustainable governance and roughly outlines the range issues to be considered when aiming for a real sustainable and competitive framework.

See solability.com/the-global-sustainable-competitiveness-index/the-index

[5] Tim Park and Paula Loader – ecologists and botanists; Penny Allen and Martin Bryant – landscape architects; Martin Manning- climate change expert; Murray Patterson and Derrylea Hardy – ecological economists; Masters student Abdullah Richards.

[6] For this project Kei Uta Collective drew on the expertise of iwi researcher Moira Poutama; research advisor Dr Aroha Spinks; fresh water ecologist and wetland specialist Dr Rebecca Eivers of Waikōkopu Consulting, Raglan; climate change modeller Dr Christian Zammit, NIWA, Christchurch; project manager and social scientist/ecological economist Derrylea Hardy; environmental artist Haydn Fowler; the international/national artist/designer group Te Waituhi ā Nuku: Drawing Ecologies[6], and our localised wetland, GIS specialist and cultural advocate Rangimarkus Heke.

[7] We are expecting to implement the ponding systems in 2022 after getting the design presentation through consultation process with our Tahamata shareholders and farm board in November 2021.

[8] Smith, H., 2015, “Toioho XX: Reflections on Mana Whenua and Mana Tiriti,” in Celebrating 20 Years of Māori Visual Art 1995 – 2015, Massey University, Palmerston North.












Smith, H. 2021, ‘E Tata Tope E Roa Whakatipu’ in Goldsmith, S., (ed.) 2021, Tree Sense, Massey University Press.

Smith, H. (2020). ‘Collaborative Strategies for Re-Enhancing Hapū Connections to Lands and Making Changes with Our Climate’. In: Dürr, Eveline., Philipp Schorch, and Sina Emde (eds.): Experiencing Pacific Environments: Pasts, Presents, Futures. Special Issue: The Contemporary Pacific. University of Hawai’i Press, Hawai’i.

 Smith, H., Bryant M, Allan P. (2020). “Mātauranga Māori, art and design: unconventional ways for addressing ways climate change impacts” in Key Concept in Indigenous Studies: Environment and Belief Systems, Vol 1, Routledge and CRC Series, London.

 Smith, H. (2018). “THE KEI UTA COLLECTIVE – Specialists using museums and exhibitions as platforms to increase access to, and participation with culture, whilst changing with a changing climate.” Written for a UNESCO publication based on workshop at Museo International del Barocco in Puebla, Mexico, 16-18 Nov 2018.

Image: Manjiri Kanvinde / Internet




  • More From This Author:

      None Found
  • Support Shuddhashar

    Support our independent work, help us to stay pay-wall free by becoming a patron today.

    Join Patreon

Subscribe to Shuddhashar FreeVoice to receive updates

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!