A research project focusing on repo (wetland) education, awareness and kaitiakitanga recently received funding worth $127,000 from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Unlocking Curious Minds fund.
The project Karangatia o ngā repo me ngā tangata, which is a joint venture between the University of Waikato Science Learning Hub and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, aims to create a series of bilingual, multimedia educational resources, based on contemporary New Zealand research into wetland ecology and restoration.
The resources, written through both mātauranga Māori and western perspectives, will draw on extensive research published in the cultural wetland handbook Te Reo o Te Repo – The voice of the wetland, to educate, build a sense of kaitiakitanga and help connect communities to their wetlands.
Science Learning Hub Project Manager, Andrea Soanes, said the one-year project will start in February, with a series of wānanga (workshops) involving Kura Kaupapa Māori schools from around the Waikato, Canterbury and Otago regions, engaging kaiako (teachers), tauira (students), and whānau in order to maximise intergenerational ako (learning).
Participants, alongside wetland experts, will be part of a process where they can share what they already know about their wetlands and continue to build on that knowledge.
“Our wetlands are in danger. They are regarded as a taonga and they are so important for everything we do, from managing water quality to flood protection and providing habitats for a wide variety of animal and plant life.
“They have been described as the kidneys of our planet. This project is another part of the turning tide to see them valued more and restored,” says Ms Soanes.
Manaaki Whenua Lead Researcher/Kairangahau Yvonne Taura says the kaupapa will produce a variety of online wetland education resources for both Kura Kaupapa Māori and mainstream schools throughout Aotearoa.
“The strong mātauranga Māori focus of Karangatia o ngā repo me ngā tangata would mean resources developed will hold the narratives of the repo, as well as explaining the ecology of culturally significant plants, such as wātakirihi (watercress) or harakeke (New Zealand flax), through to harvesting tikanga (practices), along with techniques for monitoring and restoring wetland species such as kōura (freshwater crayfish),” she says.
“Throughout the project we want to foster kaitiakitanga and empower our communities, including our tamariki and rangatahi, to learn about and care for the wellbeing of their repo.
“We will also wānanga with the kura to provide an opportunity for intergenerational learning and rebuild connectedness with their repo among kaiako, tauira, whānau and community members,” Taura explains.
The collaborative project is the first of its kind, and it’s hoped it will bridge the gap in communicating mātauranga Māori and science in both a meaningful and understandable way.
Ms Soanes believes projects like Karangatia o ngā repo me ngā tangata, will help strengthen this relationship between both scientists and communities, and forge a long-term relationship with Manaaki Whenua and the Science Learning Hub to protect their wetlands for the future.
“We don’t want people to look over there and see a swamp, we want them to see the hugely rich biodiversity our wetlands hold and the vital role they play in the ecosystem they sit in,” says Ms Soanes.
“When you engage people in a really deep and meaningful way you see that lightbulb switch on and it can take their life in a slightly different direction, it builds passion and understanding. That’s what excites me,” she adds.