Establishing a connection with the whenua.
Ngā Pakiaka Mōrehu o te Whenua Trust is an organisation I have been involved with for around 2-3 years now.
We started out as a small group of 2 or 3 whānau from across the Wairau and Te Tauihu, who all shared a common interest in learning more about our rohe (tribal area) and the culturally significant sites within it. Unfortunately, the local iwi offer very little in the way of regular hui and wānanga specific to the Wairau. There were several reo and rangatahi programs that sufficiently catered to the needs of our people, but nothing tailored toward going out onto the whenua and physically visiting some of our more obscure and less visible wahi tapu and tupuna..
On 17 June 2016, around 15 people met in front of Rangitāne House to hear about the kōrero of the pouwhenua (Te Huataki) that stands next to it. This kōrero was delivered by Richard Bradley, who was the driving force behind the 2009 Wairau Bar repatriation and was also a key figure in the settlement of the Kurahaupō claims. It was from this point that a day long journey around the Wairau began, before ending up at up at Otauira (Robin Hood Bay) to hear the final kōrero about Ihaia Kaikorua. This was the famous Rangitāne chief who on this same day at a nearby location in 1840, signed the Treaty on behalf of our people.
We filmed the hikoi that day and it can still be VIEWED HERE.
Richard Bradley, Rangitane Kaumātua and respected historian.
At the completion of the day it was apparent to us all that we needed to keep this momentum going, as everyone present indicated a strong desire to attend another hikoi if it were organised the following month. It was from here that the concept of Ngā Pakiaka grew. We had interest and support from whānau and we had the knowledge and experience of those willing and qualified to teach the kōrero.
We funded the first few events ourselves, all chipping in for kai and taking our own vehicles, which is no different to the old stories of how whānau have done things in the past. But it soon became evident that more and more people were wanting to attend and that we would need to consider resourcing this properly in order to do it well. We started to dream bigger and realise that this was a perfect opportunity for us to grow the knowledge of everyone, rather than just a few. The obvious choice would have been to approach our iwi, Rangitāne o Wairau, and ask that they resource it from their $50 million property and cash portfolio, but unfortunately the political landscape at the time was an unhealthy one and the Trustees were more focused on suing themselves (literally) and thinking of hākari, so we knew there was little chance of getting that support.
Eventually it was the efforts of Liz McElhinney, who wrote a successful application to Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, which enabled us to begin on our path that lead us to where we are today. To this day we remain infinitely grateful to the staff and the directors at Te Pūtahitanga, not just for their financial support, but also for their belief in our vision and concept.
Our wānanga have now grown in numbers from the original 15 people who stood on the beach at Otauira (Robin Hood Bay) 3 years ago. We now have to set the maximum limit of attendees at 50 people per wānanga, which usually fills within the first 24 hours of releasing the pānui. As positive as this may seem, the issue we’ve found with this success is that it is often really hard to tell whānau that they can’t attend because our quota has been reached. For the last 2 events we have had to stretch out our attendee list to cater for between 60 and 70 people. On top of that, we now regularly receive requests from non-whānau or general members of the public who have seen some of our events advertised and also want to attend. It was something we had to think hard about as group, to weigh up whether we were now extending outside of original scope and vision of what we had set out to achieve. Eventually we decided to make some of our events available to the public as well, because we recognised the value of inclusion rather than exclusivity, and the natural responsibility we have as ahi kaa to promote our culture in a positive way.
This week we reached a significant milestone in the evolution of our organisation, as we led around 100 primary school students out onto the rohe to learn some of the rich kōrero and pūrākau relevant to the area. There were several aspects of this hikoi that made it special.
We have now reached a stage where we have developed our first wave of competent kaitiaki who are capable of navigating our landscape with the knowledge they have learned alongside Ngā Pakaiaka and can confidently share it with others. Until now we have relied heavily on the experience and knowledge of our Kaumātua, Richard Bradley and Trustee Dr Peter Meihana. But, this week cousin Lewis Smith, demonstrated to us that we can now rely on him as a passionate and competent addition to our plans for the future. Lewis took over from Peter after the initial school group on Monday morning and led the next 2. He’ll continue that duty next Wednesday when the last 2 groups filter through.
Dr Peter Meihana talks to a group of students from Springlands School about some of the significant sites of the Wairau Lagoons.
On a personal level, the school coming through on this hikoi had a degree of sentimental value attached. I have fond memories of attending Springlands as a child. I am pleased to know that the staff from my old stomping ground appreciate the value of exposing their students to our content. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by us that there seems to be a genuine hunger from schools for more of localised Māori content and material to be added to the curriculum, especially in the lead up to the Tuia 250 Commemorations later this year.
We began to notice this last year when we published our children’s book, The Footsteps of Uenuku, which tells the tale of our local maunga, Tapuae-o-Uenuku. The response to this resource was overwhelming and we are currently looking to do a 2nd print.
Finally, I was particularly pleased to see a number of younger cousins and relatives among the students who came through on this hikoi to learn about their heritage, something they may not have had access to otherwise. I hope they enjoyed participating, but mostly, I hope we have contributed to their understanding of who they are and where they come from, because the natural progression from there is a sense of pride and from there emerges our next generation of kaitiaki whenua.
Through our recent experiences and personal journeys, Ngā Pakiaka have witnessed the ability that we all have to make positive changes among our own communities. All it takes is a small group of whānau or individuals who are motivated and willing to work together.
Who are Ngā Pakiaka Mōrehu o te Whenua?
The name ‘Ngā Pakiaka Mōrehu o te whenua’ is a metaphor for the people of the land, whose roots, like the indigenous forest are still firmly embedded in the soil.
The primary goal of this project is to promote the unique status of Ahi Kaa who are the repositories of tribal history and knowledge of the ancestral lands within their Iwi .
Our project also seeks to ensure that the customary knowledge, traditions and values held by the existing Ahi Kaa are preserved and passed on to future generations.
Ultimately we aim to provide a setting in which people from all the hapu of the Wairau would feel at ease. We believe this is an appropriate way forward in a post-settlement environment.
To date, we’ve now run 10 wānaga/events for our membership and community in the last 14 months and we have 2 more planned for the remaining calendar year.