In a few days, Ngāi Tahu scholar Rata Pryor Rodgers will be one in a select group of students swapping the classic Kiwi Christmas for sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts. The reality of a white Christmas in Antarctica is sinking in for Pryor Rodgers, who will head off on Friday (December 16) for two weeks…
Our dream is that our ancestral landscape is protected and our people have living relationships with their whakapapa and traditions through the environment. The goal is that Ngāi Tahu is a principled kaitiaki (steward) of our takiwā (tribal territory).
Survival in the harsh climate of Te Waipounamu demanded the wise use of all available resources, processing and preserving these for times of need. Whānau travelled the takiwā to gather food and other resources on a seasonal basis and in the process helped weave together the social structure of the iwi through alliances and intermarriage.
Our lands have always been fundamental to our tribal identity. We know our place in the world through our whakapapa to our takiwā, it carries our stories of creation, warfare, marriage and times of change. Restoring our tribal footprint to our ancestral landscape, in both traditional and contemporary forms, is a galvanising force within the iwi.
Our relationship with the natural environment was at the heart of Te Kerēme – The Ngāi Tahu Claim, and much of the Ngāi Tahu Settlement gives expression to our relationship with the takiwā. The Settlement restored our place names, recognised our histories, vested ownership of tribal taonga in the iwi and provided for Ngāi Tahu people to be members of important decision making bodies, such as the New Zealand Conservation Authority. These tools are immensely significant to the iwi as symbolic recognition of our whakapapa, but more importantly, they allow us to honour our values of kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship).
Kaitiakitanga is expressed in many different ways. Papatipu Rūnanga plant native species, negotiate how development can ensure that fish and eels can still travel from spawning grounds to the sea, put detailed submissions into government planning processes and closely monitor the health and wellbeing of the environment. The responsibility of kaitiakitanga is felt deeply by our whānau and rūnanga because our landscape and its resources are the main inheritance we will leave future generations.
Our people also need opportunities to reclaim their heritage and to express our values in this rapidly changing world. Te Rūnanga is using the 21st century technology of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to record and map ancient place names and oral histories. We also support rūnanga to come together to collectively manage resources, such as fisheries. Outwardly how Ngāi Tahu practices kaitiakitanga will continue to change, but the reasons for doing so and the values associated with it will remain constant across generations.