Ngā Whāinga Kaitiaki o Waiapu

A transdisciplinary flow to understanding Ecosystem Health goals.

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

Summary: The FRST programme "Māori Community Goals for Enhancing Ecosystem Health" began in 1998. It has involved collaborative research between Ngāti Porou and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. The project is unique because it is one of the first projects funded through public good science funding (PGSF) that has resulted in a true partnership between scientists, iwi researchers, kaumātua (Māori elders), and the Māori community within and outside the Waiapu catchment and has contributed to an iwi/hapū research capability (Clark & Quinn 2001).

The Waiapu catchment, which can be described as highly degraded and modified, exhibits an extensive and serious erosion problem. Many of the rivers are filled with sediment and classed as highly degraded. Few natural habitats remain. The catchment is of great spiritual, cultural, physical, and economic significance to Ngāti Porou, and the poor health and depletion of resources in the catchment is of great concern.

The project is also unique in that it was specifically aimed at recording and utilising Māori knowledge alongside scientific information to improve understanding of cultural values, catchment processes, and environmental change, for integrated catchment planning. Māori knowledge was documented in three main forms: values, knowledge (including contemporary and traditional), and aspirations. Te Whare Wānanga o Ngāti Porou (the learning institute in Ruatōria) has led the project through the capable guidance of Tui Warmenhoven, lawyer and kaitiaki, and resident of Ruatōria.

See the Te Haerenga Pāhekoheko guide for more details.

Kaitiaki (tribal guardians) and scientists learning together towards common Waiapu catchment goals.

A Kaupapa Māori Approach for Integration and Transdisciplinary Research

Mana Whakahaere

Connections with Ngāti Porou were first made with individuals and subsequently with the Ngāti Porou council of Te Runanga o Ngāti Porou (TRONP) in Ruatōria. 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’. Having researched and compiled information for Treaty claims, andundertaken some planning and environmental work, it was evident 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.

Whakamāramatia ngā Tikanga

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 Ruatōria and Palmerston North to understand the context of the work and different perspectives on the problems, identify potential research areas and what the different parties wanted to achieve from 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.

Whakamāramatia ngā Huānga

The project was funded with Ngāti Porou taking the lead and Manaaki Whenua as a sub-contractor, and covered three interrelated areas of work. These three parts of the objective contribute to knowledge and improved understanding of catchment health and environmental processes from both Māori and mainstream science sources:

  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.
  3. Mainstream scientific research to characterise catchment condition and determine catchment factors, such as erosion and sedimentation, affecting river health.

Whakamāramatia ngā Mahi

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 kaumātua, have so far been carried out to record local Māori 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.


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. Characterisation of catchment condition has involved reconnaissance fieldwork, surveys, and interpretation and analysis of existing environmental databases. As it becomes available, thematic Māori knowledge will be linked to this mainstream science knowledge. 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.


This research has provided an example and model for the better use and integration of mainstream science with Māori knowledge. It also provides a model for collaboration with iwi to undertake research, which may include co-learning, sharing knowledge, an understanding of Māori values and aspirations. It is this information, which can be used to underpin future biodiversity projects. A cultural perspective allows catchment planning to become more holistic, coordinated, targeted, and prioritised based on values and aspirations, and helps set priorities, goals and actions for longer term sustainable catchment planning. The combination of Mātauranga Māori and mainstream science helps us understand the possible successes or failures of any of our actions.

Publication: Harmsworth, G.; Warmenhoven T. 2002: The Waiapu project: Māori community goals for enhancing ecosystem health. Broadsheet, New Zealand Association of Resource Management (NZARM). 11 p