An interview with… Waiaria Rameka (Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Raukawa)

This month we chat to Waiaria Rameka, Administration Extraordinaire at Manaaki Te Awanui, (Tauranga’s Māori environmental research agency) about giving a voice to Māori knowledge and why it’s important for children to build a strong connection to Taiao (the natural world, environment).  

What’s led you to get involved in biosecurity and environmental related kaupapa?
I was raised in Taupo, on the banks of Waikato River. As a child I spent many a day in and around the lake and rivers in Taupo and I think that’s where my love for water and the environment was born.

You’ve been described as the ‘glue that holds everything together’ at Manaaki Te Awanui (MTA), what do you enjoy about working there?
I started out as an assistant researcher in science and cultural science five years ago, and because we’re a small research organisation you become a jack of all trades so you’re exposed to budgeting, project planning and funding, not just the research itself.  

I’m proud that we’re forging a voice for Māori research in a world dominated by western science. Māori knowledge and culture is extremely valuable – it’s ancient, born of the land and waters of Aotearoa. There’s a long way to go but MTA has taken huge steps towards establishing Māori environmental research practice and that’s an exciting space to be in.    

You’ve been instrumental in developing ‘E Hine’, a programme connecting girls to Taiao through exploration of the natural environment, tell us about that…
About five years ago, my eldest daughters were at Te Puna Primary School. Every term, boys from the kura kaupapa and immersion schools had the chance to attend a Mau Rākau (traditional martial arts) wānanaga. I noticed at this time that when our boys were away, there was no equivalent programme for the girls. So I started talking to people in the community and developing a kaupapa. We held our first E Hine noho (overnight stay) in 2017 with the help of DOC, Pirirakau Hauora and the local Te Puna School whānau. Each term we spend three days in a special environment. Our girls range in age from 9-13 years and the groups are small and personal. We collect food, we cook, we create, we share stories, we walk, we play, we sing and we just enjoy the natural environment.      

What benefits do you notice in the girls participating in E Hine?
We notice a strengthened connection to the whenua (land), and the Taiao.  We’re all Taiao, but we don’t always get the chance to connect.  If our children aren’t connected to Taiao, how can we expect them to be able to care?  I believe it’s one of the most important things we can grow and nurture in our children – a caring heart for the environment.  These camps are a great start.  

What does biosecurity mean to you? 
For me, biosecurity is Taiao (environment) and it’s Kaitiakitanga (guardianship and conservation). It’s a different perspective but the underlying issues and answers are the same. It’s about giving a voice to the people of the land, those who converse with her daily – those who listen – give them a voice and connect our children so that they can start to feel and hear the heartbeat of the land.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Tauranga Moana in terms of Biosecurity?
The disconnect between man and the environment. This is not just a Tauranga issue this is a global issue but is becoming prevalent in Tauranga, where the growth is exponential, greed is rife and decisions around development are being made without considering the heart of the land. 

What do you love about living in Tauranga?
There are so many beautiful places in this world, and I just feel really honoured that the lands and rivers, and seas of Tauranga have invited me, and cared for me and my family for over ten years now. I love the sea, I love diving, fishing and being outdoors – Tauranga has it all.