Kia hūmārie tōu haere - come alongside us

Taipuni Ruakere responds to the question: If a school came to you and wanted to develop a relationship with tangata whenua, what would you tell them?

In this conversation Taipuni Ruakere speaks with Alex Barnes about how schools and other organisations can come alongside tangata whenua in a way that supports hapū aspirations.

Taipuni Ruakere and his whānau live in Puniho Pā in on the ancestral lands of his iwi and hapū in Taranaki. Taipuni has a strong environmental and educational background and advocates for his whānau, hapū and iwi daily. Presently, he works with Te Kāhui o Taranaki on the following interrelated issues:

  • capturing the health of whenua (land), awa (rivers) and moana (ocean)
  • data capture and analysis
  • supporting Taranaki iwi marae with resource consents
  • communication with locals/visitors
  • investigating complaints with Councils
  • reporting and communicating with marae, hapū and Te Kahui o Taranaki

WATCH: If a school came to you and wanted to develop a relationship with tangata whenua – mana whenua, what would you tell them?

Jump to transcript

In this video:

[Alex opens with a karakia, welcomes us all and greets Taipuni Ruakere, acknowledging his respective iwi and his family. He acknowledges Taipuni’s work in the field of Māori health and his environmental work, particularly in Taranaki – employing the proverb He ika unahi nui to illustrate Taipuni’s tireless work throughout the years]

Nau mai e te ao awatea
Ūhia mai tō hā ki ēnei mauriora
Hurihia te pōuriuri, te pō hāngū ki tua
Kei te tuhi, kei te rarama hura mai te rā
Pai mārire ki a tātou katoa

Pai mārire e te hunga whakarongo, e te hunga mātakitaki. Nau mai, whakatau mai ki tēnei o ngā whakawhitinga kōrero – tēnei wānanga e haere ake nei. Nā reira nau mai rā piki mai rā.

Tēnei te mihi kau atu ki tēnei o ngā mokopuna o Taranaki, Te Atiawa, Ngati Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki.

E Taipuni, e rere tonu ngā mihi ki a koe otirā ki tō whanau tēnā rā koe e mara. Tēnā koe e taku tuakana kei taku rangatira.

E tika ai te kōrero bro. E te ika unahi nui, ko koe tērā.

Kāre e pau, kāre e pau, i roto i ngā tau, ko koe tērā, e whakapau kaha ana ki te hiki i te mana motuhake i te te hauora o Ngāi Māori kei te takiwā o Taranaki. Otirā ki ngā takiwā katoa o te motu nei.

Nā reira kāore e pau he ika unahi nui. E mihi ana ki a koe.

Kei wareware hoki ki ngā mahi ki te whenua, arā ki te taiao. E kī ana nei ko te oranga o te whenua, ko te oranga o te taiao, ko te oranga o te tangata.
Nā reira e taku tuakana, tēnei au e mihi ana.

Welcome everybody. This is a very exciting time, an exciting space to be entering into. My name is Alex Barnes and I’m privileged to introduce my tuakana, my whanaunga, my friend, my mentor, my rangatira: Taipuni Ruakere who hails from the East and the West Coast of Te Ika-a-Māui.

I’ve just dropped a couple of whakatauākī [proverbs] there that has been shared with me from Taipuni about his people and the commitment to continue to strive for the betterment of Māori and Taranaki in particular, but all Māori in relation to our environment and education.

It’s awesome to have you here, Taipuni. Now, Taipuni is a really interesting guy. He does a lot of groundwork in his local area in Taranaki but he also has some really interesting connections internationally through some of his GIS work. He’s worked in schools – both Pākehā schools and Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori. He’s also working with local government as well, but I’ll leave that for Taipuni to describe. Nā reira Taipuni, kei a koe te wā e hoa. Tēnā koe.

[Taipuni acknowledges Alex for opening the space for this discussion. He acknowledges Alex’s own people, his mountains and his family. He is reminded of the time when they met and worked alongside each other on different projects / causes. Taipuni explains the proverb he ika unahi nui which originated with his Taranaki people during a time of intertribal warfare. It speaks of the strength and resilience of the people and their unity. Like a fish with great, thick scales they cannot be conquered.]

Kia ora tātou. Tuatahi, e mihi ana ki a koe e te tuakana.

E mihi ana ki a koe ka whai wā kia whakariterite tēnei o ngā wā o te kōrero. Te whakautiuti kōrero ki ēnei o ngā kaupapa o te ao nei. Te ao tūroa, me kī.

E mihi ana ki a koe me ōu iwi e hoa. Me ōu maunga whakahī me tō whānau. Tēnei e mihi aroha ki a koe, he hokingā mahara ki ērā o ngā kaupapa o Tātai Aho Rau me ō tāua nei hoa i taua wā i tūtaki tāua me te mahi ngātahi mō ngā kaupapa o te motu me tētehi o nga kaupapa o te kainga nei.

Me tērā o ngā kōrero, āe, mo te ika unahi nui. He kōrero Taranaki iwi i puta i te wā o ngā pakanga i waenganui o ngā iwi. Ko te kōrero, āe, ko ngā unahi o te ika e kore e pau, e kore e pau. He kōrero mo te kaha o te iwi, te pakari o te iwi me te kotahitanga. Ko ēnā ngā tino kōrero hei arahi tonu i a tātou i tēnei wā.

Nō reira e mihi ana ki a koe e hoa me ērā o ngā kōrero tuku iho o te kāinga.

Kia ora everybody, everybody that’s listening. Just wanted to acknowledge you all and the times that we’re living in and the challenges we face as iwi, puta noa i te motu [throughout the country] and just wanted to acknowledge you Alex for the opportunity to have a kōrero and I always enjoy catching up with you and as I said earlier before we started this recording, you know we have some really deep conversations about a lot of issues in our world, and sometimes it’s good to keep things simple and you need a bit of humour too to keep it light. So, I just wanted to mihi to you Alex, nice to connect with you again and to have a bit of a kōrero about our kaupapa [topic] today.

As Alex said, I’m born and bred here in Taranaki and also connect to Te Tairāwhiti as well on my mother’s side, and currently working with Te Kāhui o Taranaki in our Taiao Team [environment team] and our mahi [work] is on the ground. It’s walking our whenua, our streams and observing the challenges that we face in our wai and in our coastline.

There are many challenges here in Taranaki as you can imagine. It’s largely an agricultural, industrial area, oil and gas, farming, dairy farming. So, there are huge impacts on our taiao [environment] here.

Our mahi is to monitor the health wellbeing of these special places and then I also do a bit of GIS as well. We look at GIS as a tool to help to capture the observations that we’re making and ultimately through GIS and data capture, through te ao Māori [the Māori world], our Taranaki lens, we’re able to utilise that information to share with our own whānau, hapū, and iwi, but most importantly it’s evidenced on the ground that we can utilise to bring about change to enhance and protect our taiao [environment].

So, that’s just a little bit about me and my whānau. We live here at Puniho Pā. This is our papakāinga [village] here. And my wife Rachel and our three tamariki.

Nō reira. Tēnā tātou.

Kia ora. And what a beautiful home it is, my friends. I’ll tell you if you get the opportunity to visit that part of the world, beautiful. Beautiful. That’s an awesome introduction, my friend. That’s an awesome introduction.

Originally, we were going to do this whole recording while Taipuni was out doing some of his monitoring, doing some of his observations out on the awa [river] ‘cause that’s where his happy place is and that’s where we’ve had some good laughs and some good yarns. But here we are in the zoom-land here, sitting here doing our thing.

Heoi anō, e mihi ana ki tō tātou nei taiao. Tēnā koe e te tuakana.

Beautiful, beautiful. And so, the theme Taipuni of what we’ve been talking about amongst ourselves – you and I for many years – but with other educationalists who can see the problems with our – the problems we all face, the complexity of disparity between Māori and non-Māori in all areas both environmentally, looking after our environment and also in education.

I think we both align on this, that those things are interconnected.

So, we’ve been thinking about ways of helping, working with schools or organisations generally, because you’ve worked in schools but you’ve also worked like you were saying with local government.

The key question is this: if an organisation were to come to you and ask you ‘Hey, Taipuni, we want to develop a relationship with tangata whenua, we can see the need here.’ What would you say to them? What would your key whakaaro / reflection be on that? So yeah, in your experience.

He pai tērā pātai. [That’s a great question]

Just recently in our taiao mahi [environmental work], as you can imagine, with a lot of the legislative changes that are happening, hapū and iwi are overwhelmed. We’ve got requests from local government, government agencies to connect with us.

If I can speak from our experiences as a team, a lot of their questions around mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge systems] and gaining a better understanding for us here in Taranaki iwi, matauranga Māori that’s related to our mahi [work], our awa [rivers], our coastlines, our whenua [lands], our maunga [mountain].

Our people don’t – we don’t have the capacity yet to respond when we hear requests from local government to support that. We’re still growing our capacity locally. A lot of our whānau here are volunteers in our hapū spaces, on our marae.

So, now we’re at a place where we’ve been for years focusing on the maintenance of our marae, but now suddenly it’s become a greater mahi now which is incorporating our hapū mahi. Which is our rivers, our environmental challenges that we’re facing with local farming and so forth.

How I respond to – whether it’s local government or whether it’s schools, kaiako [teachers] or tumuaki [principals] – is just haramai, haramai. Come to us and let’s have a kōrero. You can either come to our homes, in our mahi we encourage to have our whānau come alongside us when we’re doing our mahi.

We might be walking the river, we might be doing some monitoring in the rivers. Or we could be planting harakeke. So, those are great places to have that kōrero. So, that’s how I encourage that engagement to take place, to keep it simple. Not too formal.

Make it an easy engagement really and often that helps to break down barriers with people. And when you add a bit of kai, and you have a cup of tea and you have a kai together, that’s for all people. It’s a universal language, eh? Kai. You know having kai and then through that engagement then you have a kōrero. So that’s what we do, Alex. I mean that’s been my approach with anybody, really. Come alongside us.

Often we’ve been asked to go to them. Often we’ve been asked with no resources to drive to hui for a few hours, where often they’re paid to do that and we’re having to do it ourselves. So, you know that can be very taxing on our health to engage in that way.

And for a long time, and I suppose I’ll just speak for myself when I was teaching at high school. You’d have all the questions around engaging with hapū and iwi around history, around kōrero. And you’d always be the one that’s approached to give of your time. You know, get a phone call last night. Are you available to come and share some kōrero? And that’s happened for many of us. So, you share a bit of kōrero to local schools and then you get given some chocolates, you know.

That’s been my experience over the years and so I think that approach – that has to… I hope that’s changed. When you’re invited to share kōrero, doesn’t matter if it’s he kōrero nui, he kōrero iti – that the person that’s been invited is treated with manaakitanga [hospitality, generosity] and acknowledged for the value that they bring because in my experience that often hasn’t been the case.

You’re giving of your time. Now that we’re being approached by many people with the changes in curriculum, which is great to see, the history curriculum that’s being acknowledged for tangata whenua, but those sorts of ways of engaging… yeah, they have to change.

That’s it, right? Which is why we’re having this discussion. If I think about what you’ve just shared, there’s a couple of key things that really speak to me. One is you’re being asked to be involved in everything so at the iwi and hapū level you’re being asked to be involved in all sorts of things.

So, because there’s a requirement now on all sorts of government agencies to work with Māori whether that be hapū, iwi, whānau, and so you’re stretched. I’ve heard that.

So, when schools are thinking about these relationships, they need to understand that different iwi and hapū will be at different places and have different capabilities to provide. So, not to expect things to just happen like this [snaps fingers].

The second thing is we’re still stuck in a system where Māori, like you said, are expected to just come and give and give and give and give. But the time now is actually to pause and go: ‘How are we contributing back to hapū and iwi?’

One of the key things that I heard you say there is for the schools and the organisations to think, ‘What’s on the map?’ or ‘What’s on the calendar of the local iwi?’ ‘What are they up to?’ So, for you guys you might be doing a planting day. So, actually, make contact, get in touch, say ‘Hey, we’re keen to develop a relationship or come out and help with the planting.’

The school is moving out of their comfort zone and into your zone. So, automatically there’s a sharing of power, there’s the moving from the school site to the iwi or the hapū site.

Yes, definitely Alex. And that’s been our experience in recent years with our local kura. They’ve put their hands up and they’ve requested in a respectful way. It’s more about ‘How can we help you?’ ‘What can we do to help?’ ‘We’ve got our tamariki here that are really keen to come and help you.’

You’re right, it’s about engaging and connecting hono ki ngā kaupapa.

So, planting is a great example here in our community. We’ve had many opportunities where our local kura have supported us and the kaiako as well. I always encourage (and always have) when schools come in and have a marae noho here, always request: ‘Bring some new teachers with you.’ ‘Bring some kaiako that are new in your kura.’ They’re welcome to come and spend that time here with us. So that’s helping that relationship for them.

Matariki / Puanga, those are also opportunities to connect with your local Māori community because often – and a good example here is at Parikaha – every year we have a Puanga celebration and that’s always been an open invitation to our community, whether it’s in Taranaki or outside Taranaki. It’s open and a lot of different people – it’s diverse.

People come – ka haramai ngā tangata hei ringaringa [people come as helpers / workers].

That’s probably another key message too is first of all is to go and listen. You don’t necessarily have to say anything. Go and listen and go with your ringaringa [hands] to offer some help. Go help at the back of the marae or the dishes, help peeling the potatoes. Because that’s where the rangatira are, eh. Kei muri. Kei muri kei mua hoki ēngari kei muri ko te tuara o te marae. [The backbone of the marae is out the back]. All the aunties are there, all the uncles are there.

If I come back to our example about Puanga, in my experience over the last few years here, I’ve seen a large or diverse group people coming – including our local kaiako from our kuras and they’ve really benefited from being at that kaupapa because they’re helping with the mahi and then while they’re doing the mahi with the māra, they’re hearing kōrero from our whānau. And that’s where the learning’s been taking place.

Learning doesn’t have to be in a formal way. You know, learning in the old days, we all learnt by watching the examples around us, our uncles, our aunties, our whānau. Whether it’s gathering watercress or gathering mātaitai [seafood], preparing a hāngī, setting up a dining room. Our example, our tauira wasn’t written down. It was through experience and I think that’s a great strategy to engage with us.

I’m thinking about leadership qualities as you’re talking. A couple of leadership things spring up. Like just before you were saying ‘Bring new kaiako in. You know if you’re going to come along, bring in new kaiako.’

I was thinking that’s to help spread the load or to create a more broad base of relationships, so you’re not dependent on one or two people, usually Māori teachers holding the relationship. Because that can often happen too right?

It becomes very fragile when you’ve got one or two Māori having to do all the work in the school, between the school, and then too with the local hapū and iwi. I really like that, that you’re trying to broaden that out.

That’s what I think. Is that what you were trying to say too is to have that relationship shared a bit more?

Yeah, definitely. Definitely agree with the sharing of the workload and the expectations and the responsibilities that are often on the shoulders of one person in the school. Generally, the teacher of te reo Māori.

That’s often been a common theme in our mainstream schools.

I think probably what I was going to focus on too, or what I was highlighting is to spread that awareness and understanding and the knowledge of our local marae and tangata whenua through bringing other people alongside you. Bringing them into that environment to hear kōrero, to meet us, and to have that time with us.

Kia ora. The other thing, too, that strikes me, as you’re talking quite pragmatically – those are those skills of listening. Not going in and going:
‘We need a… ’
‘Look Taipuni. We need a local curriculum.’
‘Can you just give us… ’
‘We need this, this and this, by this date.’

What I think you’re saying is: ‘Just come, be quiet, be open to helping and observe.’ Soak it up. Don’t necessarily jump to action. And that takes like a leadership skill of humility of letting go of one’s own imperative or agenda.

I’m just gonna leave my school agenda here, for a bit. It’s a school agenda, but the formal agenda, and be in a place with Taipuni and his whānau and people that is more about just being with and letting it go and not being constrained, necessarily, by time and agendas.
It’s quite a different frame, eh.

Yeah, it’s being present at the time and often in our schooling systems, it is determined by structure. It is determined by frameworks – time frames, I should say.

We’re teaching our curriculum and we need to get it taught by this time and then we need to have assessments. So a lot of curriculum is still assessment-driven. So, you’re right.

If we look at the education sector, it’s about taking off your hat, that pōtae and being open minded and being humble. Kia hūmārie tōu haere [tread gently] and kia manawanui [be steadfast]. And being patient. Having no expectations – I mean you have some expectations about what you’re doing, but don’t have too many.

Be open to: ‘We may not get to that part today.’ We might just skip this meeting and do some mahi, you might end up actually going to do mahi for a day and you may not have a kōrero about your kaupapa that you’ve brought, your take [issue]. So it’s being open to that, being organic with our people because that’s how we are.

So, you’re right there Alex. It’s going and listening. And hey, that could take time. It could take weeks. It could take months. It could take years. Because relationships take time when you build up from a foundation. When you build anything from a foundation, like a whare, you want to do that well. It may be a case of: You might be building that foundation for your kura, and then someone else might come and do the next step.

So, I think the earlier stages of engagement are really really pivotal in how things happen down the track. Just go with an open mind and be patient and let things happen naturally. Don’t try to force things, or make things happen based on your timeframes.

Or, often it’s based on funding criteria. Got to get these done by a certain time.

We were talking before we jumped on too that Tauiwi / non-Māori need to be cautious around how they’re doing it. They need to think through what their motivations are – and when I was talking to Therese Ford in the other discussion, she was saying in her evolution of thinking she was saying that the most important thing that I tell organisations and schools now is to enquire into your motivation.

Why are you doing it? What’s the aim? What’s the purpose? Get your own house me whakatika i tou ake whare get your own foundation and house in order before jumping out. I’m picking that up from you, too. Be cautious, be humble.

It’s a delicate process because for so long now, schools – many schools (not all schools) but many schools have neglected the reality of local whānau, hapu and iwi – environmentally, educationally, health, all sorts. So, it’s a delicate process.

But I’m also hearing you say: Māori, tangata whenua, they’re also being quite cautious about it as well.

Definitely Alex. I think we also need to remember that there’s our own whānau that have been disconnected, through – for us in Taranaki – through colonisation, through the loss, the taking of our land.

Our economic base was destroyed in the 1860s and we’re still recovering from that. And during those years of confiscation, the loss of our culture was huge. Our cultural base, our language, our reo, our kōrero.

So, we want to also be prioritising our own people and teaching them as much as we can, creating spaces to have wānanga for our own whānau. That should be first and foremost. Because we’ve had a lot of disconnection to all of our narratives, our local kōrero, our history, obviously our reo, our waiata. And, as we know around the country.

For the curriculum, I think it needs to be a huge priority for our people, our own people and resourcing, providing more resource for our people. Not just the iwi resourcing it. Central government. We’ve had settlement, we have a bit of pūtea through settlement in Taranaki but that doesn’t mean that the resourcing ends there.

Our people are very hiakai i te kāinga [hungry for home]. Our people locally, around the motu and overseas, many of our whānau live overseas. And now we have the technology, like the Zui [Zoom]. The online wānanga space is accelerated through COVID and so we’ve lots of recordings. A lot of initiatives that happened during that time through Pukamata [Facebook], through the virtual online space where we were able to share with our people.

I think that needs to be a priority for us as well. Think about them.

It’s an interesting one isn’t it. Yeah. So Māori are trying to rebuild their base, rebuild their sense of who they are and their direction so that’s an inward facing development. Then schools and other organisations and institutions are coming wanting, wanting, wanting but actually tangata whenua are saying: ‘Hold up, we want to do both, but we need to just be… ’

Organisations need to understand that redevelopment phase, which is actually never-ending, eh?

That’s what’s exciting about revitalisation and the work you’re doing with GIS. Just remind us GIS stands for…?

It’s Geographic Information Systems


That’s a flash word but it’s ko te whenua. Ko te kōrero mō te whenua ngā āhuatanga, ngā maunga, ngā awa, te takutai moana. [It’s about the land – its characteristics, mountains, rivers and coasts.]

GIS is a tool to help to visualise our ao, our world and it’s nothing new to iwi. Our people, our tūpuna navigated Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa [the Pacific Ocean]. Ngā whetū, kāhui whetū [by the stars, the constellations], and that’s how they arrived here.

So GIS has always been in us, part of us. We do a bit of that mahi too and that is helping us to visualise our narratives locally and to share the outcomes of what we see. It’s visual, which is, our people are visual. So, they can see in an instant a picture of our taiao [environment].

I was thinking about building our own whare as you mentioned previously. So, we’re currently in that situation now – as a hapū and iwi – is building our hapū, building our iwi capacity to do all the things that we want to do. We’ve had wānanga with our hapū for a lot of whenua sites that have come – that we’re now looking after as an iwi.

I think in our own tīma taiao / taiao team, we’re still kei te rapu tonu, te mea ngaro [searching for that which was lost]. We’re still searching and looking at our kōrero to develop our way of working because we’re not a Department of Conservation, we’re not a council.

We work differently to them but we need the time to look at: ‘How does that look for us?’ and that includes our mātauranga [knowledge systems] from home. So we’d need the time and space to build that up as a team and it can take years. And once we’ve found that, it’s ongoing. There’s never an end point. E kore e mutu tērā huarahi.

But that’s where we are at as a team now is going back to some of our traditional practices of fishing and growing kai and then also having discussions and kōrero around the maramataka [Māori almanac / lunar calendar] for Taranaki iwi because we know the world is changing. Climate change is here.

The maramataka twenty years ago or fifty years ago when my Dad was a young fella, when he was fishing, the fish isn’t there anymore. The abundance of fish of piharau, lamprey eels in our rivers, they’re not there anymore like they used to. The īnanga, whitebait.

Those are the sorts of conversations that we’re having as a team, why we do our mahi, where we’re having kōrero around those observations and what does the maramataka look like now because it’s going to change in time as well. But we’re hopeful, we’re optimistic. We’re optimistic that kei te ora haere te taiao [the health of the environment is improving]. The signs are there. The signs are there

Me mahi te mahi [keep on doing the work]. As a community, as a people – continue to engage with our young people. What we do in our mahi we’re sort of – we’re not the beginning, the beginning has already occurred with our tūpuna. We’re only part of that huarahi [path / process].

What we do now is also thinking of the future and so we’re bringing our young people with us. They come with us when we do our mahi just to do what I’ve talked about before, just to get involved, to get their hands in the whenua, into the awa. That’s the best way to learn. There’s your curriculum in action.

It’s the way our tūpuna learned so I’m always an advocate of getting outside, ko te kura e huna, kura ki te taiao [it’s important knowledge, environmental education]. Encouraging as much as we can to have our schools come out with us.

Health and safety is a big issue, as we know, but there are ways around that to make it safe. I think it’s always worth having a few kids with you as opposed to a whole lot of people and there’s things that we can do to make it happen.

Kia ora. Well, Taipuni it’s been an awesome kōrero and we’ve got more to say, so many things we could’ve gone down, so many different alleyways and byways and bypasses. We’ve bypassed a few things but e mihi ana ki a koe taku tuakana. Tika tāu, rapua te mea ngāro.

We’re all committed to finding ways of surviving and thriving and what I’ve always loved about your work is your strong connection and bringing together both the technological side of things whether that be the technology of the stars, and the technology of the ocean and the technology of the landmarks around you, of your tūpuna or the technology of this that we’re doing now and GIS.

That connection between those technologies and place and actual land – like, that connection is so invaluable and they can coexist.

I really appreciate all the work you’re doing my friend, and the inspiration you offer so many of us. So, thank you, e mihi tonu ana. Do you have any last words that you want to share with the people there?

Kia kaha tātou, kia manawanui. [Be strong and steadfast] Ki te mahi i ngā mahi ia rā, ia ra… [Keep doing the work day by day].

Just to keep it simple really. Keep grounded. We’ll get there. We’ll get there as a people. Ko ēnā, ko ēnā

Keep it grounded, keep it real. Nā reira kei taku rangatira e mihi tonu ana ki a koutou, me ōu piringa. Thank you Taipuni.

We’re going to include any other resources we’ve mentioned on the site here so we’ll be curating a bit of that

Taipuni, go well, look forward to our next catch up and nā, e mihi ana ki a koe e hoa. Tēnā koe.

Tēnā koe e hoa. Kia ora.