Te Aho Tapu

What are the links between environmental integrity and the health, wellbeing and wealth of Indigenous communities?

Ensuring the sustainable management of our natural resources is increasingly becoming an issue of national and international concern, and understandably so.

In the modern world the simple economics of employment and financial survival have taken over many of our lives, with people increasingly dislocated from their natural environments and generations of families completely urbanised. As a consequence communities, families and individuals now have a limited understanding of how the ecosystems that they live within and alongside, support and sustain them.

While home communities still exist close to traditional marae, these are small and with at least 60–70 years of urban drift resulting in an ever tenuous connection between many whānau and their home marae and the traditional knowledge that is contained within them, urban Māori as a whole face challenges similar to the rest of the population in keeping connected with the natural world.

However many iwi and hapū are in the unique position of being able to take advantage of the traditional knowledge and mātauranga that still survives in their rural marae-based communities – sometimes held by only a few individuals, but an unbroken knowledge-based system stretching back largely uninterrupted for almost 1000 years. These communities are well-positioned to make important contributions to the ongoing discussion of what is required to sustainably manage natural resources.

The practice of kaitiakitanga, as well as other traditions, provides a powerful foundation for blending the old with the new and developing reinvigorated paradigms in governance, management, caring, development and benefit-sharing of land, water (freshwater and marine) as well as other natural resources.

The overall aim of Te Aho Tapu is to build knowledge around mātauranga Māori-driven theory, research, decision making and then create action through working across community-driven projects.

The project has brought together some of New Zealand’s leading researchers in this field. Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes, Wendy Henwood and Professor Tim McCreanor from Massey University, along with Dr Garth Harmsworth, Landcare Research Manaaki Whenua, and Dr Gail Tipa, are focused on delivering real world benefits, with sustainable and translatable solutions and models that are founded in the aspirations of local communities.

Te Aho Tapu is already discovering, detailing and modelling the most effective ways of increasing Māori contributions to kaitiakitanga knowledge, agency and action at local, national and global levels.

It is also identifying the links between environmental integrity and the health, wellbeing and wealth of not just Indigenous groups, but all local communities. The research group is focusing on what is needed to improve Māori and national health, and how environment based experiences can be applied to promote Māori health and wellbeing.

Faced with generational challenges including the loss of important traditional ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, endangered and threatened food sources, water pollution, toxic spills, land use changes and the increasing threat of climate change these communities are ideally placed to provide both perspectives and solutions to the challenges we all face.

Throughout 2016, the researchers have been working with communities in Te Hiku (Far North) and Waitaki (Ngāi Tahu, Te Wai Pounamu) to further develop the project and create a strong base with which to move forward over the coming years.

Through an ongoing collaborative process Te Aho Tapu provides these communities with direct input into a major research project that will determine future guidelines and initiatives that can be translated throughout the country into rural and urban environments.

How can mātauranga Māori contribute to the ongoing discussions of sustainability, what do we have to offer as communities, what makes our solutions distinctive and how can our initiatives be applied throughout the country to ensure that community aspirations are met and balanced with economic stability and prosperity?

As the project proceeds, methods are varying from site to site but all include an ongoing interview process, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of local initiatives.

Te Aho Tapu is designed to allow for an expansion of focus over time, with the potential for new sites to join with the work that has already been established over these first 12 months. The research involves multiple national and international linkages, allowing for a sharing of Indigenous knowledge and different local approaches to global issues and problems.

Ultimately this project seeks to contribute our unique Indigenous knowledge to the considerable global discussions that are already underway on how to provide sustainable cultural, economic, social and environmental solutions for communities and countries.                                

Te Aho Tapu is focused on delivering Māori resolutions and translatable models that will not just benefit our own whānau and communities, but also the nation as a whole.

Project commenced:

Research Lead(s) and Team

Ngāti Wai Ngāti Hine Ngāti Manu
Director of Whāriki and Co-director of the SHORE and Whariki Research Centre

Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes is based out of Massey University and is currently Director of Whāriki and Co-director of the SHORE and Whariki Research Centre. She has worked on research in many areas; more recently relationships between the health of people and the health of environments, sexual coercion, alcohol and youth well-being and identity.

Te Arawa Ngti Tuwharetoa Ngāti Raukawa
Ngāi Tahu