While the responsibility comes naturally, the career is a new one.
“Since I started, I’m learning all the time. It’s so different from working in Kōhanga Reo. I was tired of the noise. I wanted to get back on the land, into nature.”
Her background in Kōhanga Reo has helped her a lot. It was connections there that first got her working on Motutapu Island doing pest plant and animal management. Donna was keen to do the same mahi on the mainland. When she heard about the Awa Rangers, it was the perfect opportunity.
“Riparian planting is my interest,” she says. “Because I want to do it at home. I will be in this line of work for the rest of my life.”
This mahi has enabled her to continue her teaching and learning journey.
“I am confident in both languages (te Reo Māori and English), so I can explain things to kids in a way they understand. It’s helped me a lot when we have corporate days, especially with things like karakia.”
Donna feels it is important we slow down to make this connection.
“Our team has a habit of coming to work and smashing it. But we also sing to the trees. Even when we are planting. ‘Purea Nei’ is the go-to. We all share that energy. It makes it fun.”
For Donna: “This work has done amazing wonders. You can turn up depressed. But just being with everybody, the banter, the work we do, it’s so healing. Having this job every day just uplifts you.”
She likes to think about weeding in terms of her own life.
“Weeding out the shitty things that are happening. I weed around the plants and make them feel better. Not letting the plants or myself get suffocated.”
For Donna, it’s clear that the land is sick, and so are the people.
“We need to stop the blame game and start the healing process. The whole way we live needs to change. I feel for my two daughters and the struggles they are going through right now that didn’t exist when I was their age. It’s so hard to get young people out of the house and off their devices.”
Donna believes the answers lie in ancient wisdom.
“The things our tuupuna knew have been mind-boggling, amazing, worlds made of water that they already knew about. We just need to follow their example and walk without leaving a footprint.”
Donna maintains that knowledge so precious needs to be shared, in waananga, with whaanau, in high schools, so people can know this is a career path and way of life. In her experience, family is often a route in. The Awa Rangers have been her family.
“My crew are my favourite part of this mahi. They support me, and they push me to do things I am uncomfortable with. The work is hard, so if you can enjoy your day, it makes it so much easier.”
One of the biggest shifts for Donna has been in her mindset, recognising what she is truly capable of.
“Everyone that comes here always makes us feel valued. We have great times, we get great feedback. I feel people respect the tikanga and want to learn. This job has surpassed my expectations. I’m not done yet, I’ll be here for a while.”
Her legacy continues, nurturing the life-giving energy of places that speak to her.