Waiora is South Auckland born and raised, and proudly so. Her aspirations for a more self-sustaining community are firmly rooted in the Puhinui. “I want a farm here, a maara kai to grow food. My supermarket in my backyard.”
Her vision for self-sufficiency is grounded in her experience working with the Te Pu-a-Nga Maara Awa Rangers. Waananga sharing Maatauranga Maaori, indigenous place-based knowledge, is central to this mahi “feeding minds and puku.”
For Waiora, the learning is in the doing. Since January 2022, Waiora and her team have planted 15,000 locally sourced native plants and established a pest control programme over 5 Hectares of the catchment. Reconnecting with, and embodying ancestral ways of knowing and being through restoration work on the whenua. “Back in the old days, it’s all our people had. The awa (river), the trees, we need to go back to that. I didn’t have any experience in this work. I didn’t know any natives. But I was committed to finding out what’s good for the whenua (land) and for the animals. I see now that the taiao (environment) reflects the community.” Waiora knows that supporting the mauri and mana (life force and prestige) of the awa enhances the mana and mauri of the people.
Learning to listen and observe the tohu (signs) of the taiao is at the heart of her mahi. This enables Waiora to be really intentional in her work as a kaimanaaki (co-nurturer) with nature. It also nurtures a grounding in gratitude. “Learning to listen is a skill. I was so closed off. People love being busy, not seeing what is right in front of them. Once you slow down, you appreciate it. Put yourself in that space. Look, listen, that’s how you learn.”
Connection with our senses, and with our source of peace, is fundamental to this work. Waiora reminds us that those who truly listen are often most tuned in with the wairua (spirit) and energies of a situation or place, and she is all the wiser for it.
For Waiora, enabling people to experience this way of working is crucial to breaking down barriers. “People don’t think conservation is cool. They think we mow lawns, cut down trees, spray weeds - stink. This industry isn’t talked about enough. They don’t know what it is. They aren’t taught the skills as a pathway. They don’t see the fun in it. If they could do it for a day, they might actually enjoy it. People need to understand you can make a living.”
Waiora sees herself growing her skills and responsibility in this mahi long-term. “I’d still like to be doing this in 10 years, but on a bigger scale. More community engagement. People need to hold themselves accountable. I’m not here to play the blame game. I want to help them find solutions. Encourage them to be mindful of what they are doing, of the waste. Show them the benefits of our work so they understand. To bring our manu (birds) back. Do you like seeing magpies all the time? We have way better birds than that.”
It’s not hard for Waiora to find meaning in her mahi. “I love it. We look after each other. Everyone is valued. It definitely grounds me.” Her work cares for the mana and mauri of tangata, whenua and taiao, contributing to healthy environments, communities and systems. This is the value of supporting employment where whakapapa is respected, acknowledging our approach to mahi as the living embodiment of our ancestors. Careers which center mana motuhake (self-determination), particularly for Maaori and Pasifika people.
The Awa Rangers and SBN are hugely grateful for our investors who see the value in supporting place-based opportunities for rangatahi to engage in mahi tiaki taiao - the work that regenerates. This years’ planting season beginning in June will see Waiora and the Awa Rangers plant a further 20,000 plants along the awa. We invite you to experience this innovative way of learning and working as part of our ‘Connect with Te Puhinui Give Back Days’ we hold every marama (month). In Waiora’s words “People need to experience it. It’s pretty fun. Knowing you are learning what we are learning, taking in different things. It’s good to share.”
We can’t wait for you to be part of it.