Māori community goals for ecosystem health

A small transdisciplinary project.

Research goal: The development of knowledge and improved understanding of catchment health and environmental processes from both Māori and mainstream science perspectives?

The FRST programme "Māori Community Goals for Enhancing Ecosystem Health" began in 1998. The programme evolved from a previous FRST-funded programme "Māori values for land use planning" that ran from 1995 to 1998, and helped build collaborative research relationships with Ngāti Porou. Contacts with Ngāti Porou were first made with individuals and subsequently with the Ngāti Porou council of Te Runanga o Ngāti Porou (TRONP) in Ruatoria. Initial contacts included hui presentations which provided a platform and basis for developing future relationships with Ngāti Porou. Further meetings followed, with other Ngāti Porou representatives, and with their 'environmental and Treaties research team’. Ngāti Porou had researched and compiled information for Treaty claims, and also undertook some planning and environmental work and it was evident that Ngāti Porou had good research capability. From a Manaaki Whenua perspective there were many potential synergies to work in this area and a strong basis for research collaboration.

Manaaki Whenua's relationship with Ngāti Porou during the earlier "Māori values" programme led to:

These activities, as well as regular contact built up and maintained during this time, were important for building the relationship.

Concepts that applied throughout


In early 1997 a joint decision between Ngāti Porou and Manaaki Whenua was made to write a joint proposal for FRST funding. A number of hui were held in Ruatoria and Palmerston North order to really understand the context of the work, the different perspectives on the problems, identify potential research areas and what the different parties wanted to achieve out of a project, and agree on how the research would be conducted and with whom. Most of the hui were half- or full-day meetings, with informal discussion, usually centered on a whiteboard. All information from each hui was written up and notes were supplied to all involved in the hui. Regular contact was kept through e-mail, phone conversations, post mail, and visits.

Contextual concepts

As the key issues were determined, the area around the Waiapu River started to emerge as a study priority. The decline in the health or mauri of the Waiapu River was of huge concern to Ngāti Porou. To understand the river, it was essential to understand the whole Waiapu catchment area, and to identify the spatial and temporal changes and cumulative effects that had led to the decline in the mauri of the river. Māori philosophy supported an integrated 'mountains to the sea' approach that looked holistically at the larger area around the river, the coast, and the marine environment. It was also agreed that it was imperative to understand the relationship between people and the environment, and record knowledge of the whenua (the land) and awa (river) from both a Māori and scientific perspective

Contextual concepts


The project was funded, with Ngāti Porou taking the lead and Manaaki Whenua as a sub-contractor — an example of the highest level on the ladder of participation. The project covered three interrelated areas of work:

  1. Determining the best mix of communication strategies to facilitate dialogue and participation with the Waiapu community, and between the community and those stakeholders with an interest in sustainable catchment management.
  2. Recording and collecting local knowledge and traditional Māori knowledge about the catchment to gain an understanding of Māori values, and the spatial and temporal changes in the catchment, particularly since deforestation and land development. The information is required to characterise catchment condition, environmental change, and catchment health from a Māori perspective and also to form and articulate community aspirations.
  3. Mainstream scientific research to characterise catchment condition and determine catchment factors, such as erosion and sedimentation, affecting river health.

The three parts of the objective contribute to knowledge and improved understanding of catchment health and environmental processes from both Māori and mainstream science sources. This is being used to construct a temporal and spatial record of how the catchment has changed through time, particularly since deforestation. An important aspect of the research is to document, by constructing oral, written, and scientific records, the incidence of repeated storm, erosion, and flooding events, that have had a great effect on the people of the Waiapu. A large number of interviews, many with Mäori elders, have so far been carried out to record local Mäori knowledge historical events. Community participation in the project has been encouraged through the use of less formal interviews and discussion with individuals and community groups, hui, an art competition, newsletters, and presentations by iwi researchers at various venues including schools. Results indicate that the deforestation and land development of the last 100 years has had enormous impact on cultural values and Mäori well-being through loss of flora and fauna, decreased access to traditional resources, increased flooding, and the continuing decline in the mauri (life force or health) of the river and the quality of its resources through deposition of enormous quantities of sediment.

Integrated techniques used

Much of the recording of local knowledge has involved using semi-structured interviews. A kaupapa Māori research has been used, including Māori interviewing techniques by trained interviewers and use of te reo Māori. Historical research using archives, historic photographs, manuscripts, minute books, and museum and Māori Land Court records has also been used. Methods are being developed to link Māori knowledge from this part of the objective to mainstream science knowledge.

Contextual concept

Characterisation of catchment condition has involved reconnaissance fieldwork, surveys, and interpretation and analysis of existing environmental databases. Thematic Māori knowledge will be linked to this mainstream science knowledge as it becomes available. This part of the objective is building a number of GIS biophysical and cultural coverages for visual communication, modelling, and statistical summary of catchment factors.

Organising concept

A comprehensive knowledge base of Māori and mainstream science knowledge on the Waiapu catchment has been built and will be accessible to the community, stakeholders, and future generations. Cultural benefits accruing from such a knowledge base include the formation of a Ngāti Porou archive on environmental, cultural, social and economic knowledge, and from interviews, the recordings and documentation of Ngāti Porou te reo, including pepeha or whakatauki. Information from the project will ultimately be used to target and prioritise catchment rehabilitation and to develop sustainable catchment management scenarios, using a balance of environmental, economic, social and cultural factors.


The project used a number of communication and information exchange/information dissemination methods. These have included: hui, seminars-workshops, an art competition, interviews, field visits/discussion, participatory field work with TWONP students, pānui-newsletters, radio station airplay, maps, posters, house visits and personal discussion, and presentations at schools.

Dissemination concept

More information

Māori Community Goals for Enhancing Ecosystem Health, Manaaki Whenua.