7 Oct 2018

The science project using indigenous Māori knowledge to increase NZ's resilience to natural hazards

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 7 October 2018
Railway tracks ripped from the line alond state highway 1 - north of Kaikoura

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

How can we as a nation better respond to natural hazards like tsunamis and floods?

New Zealand scientists and researchers are exploring Matauranga Māori (Māori indigenous knowledge) for the Resilience Challenge – an ambitious nationwide project exploring New Zealand's resilience to such hazards.

The Resilience Challenge team is made up of over a hundred scientists and 35 PhD students and is led by University of Auckland Professor Shane Cronin with support from 11 organisations including GNS Science and NIWA.

Justine Murray meets three people involved – social scientist Dr Wendy Saunders who's been working with iwi and hapū in the Bay of Plenty, Māori social scientist Lucy Carter who's teaching disaster preparedness in Kura kaupapa Māori (Māori language immersion schools), and Dr Taiarahia Black who's contributing his research into colonial history.

Dr Wendy Saunders investigating landslides from the Kaikōura 2016 earthquake. (Dec 2017)

Dr Wendy Saunders investigating landslides from the Kaikōura 2016 earthquake. (Dec 2017) Photo: Ali Rogers

Dr Wendy Saunders – a leading expert on natural hazards – is based at GNS Science in Lower Hutt.

In 2008, she was the recipient of the Zonta Building Research Award – a $75,000 grant to assist her PhD research.

Dr Saunders recently spent time with iwi and hapū at Matakana and Rangiwaea Islands in the Bay of Plenty, looking at how that region responds to and manages natural hazards using risk-based land use planning, and also their relationships with the wider community, council and land planners.

She says her focus is on the consequences of hazards, rather than coping with them at the time.

Preparation for a natural hazard could be as simple as creating better roading and footpaths for potential emergency evacuations.

Understanding iwi management plans and indigenous knowledge of the environment is an important part of her role, Dr Saunders says.

“We need to be sharing our knowledge more as scientists with Māori, and as scientists, we need to be really aware of the context and value of the Mātauranga Māori when we are developing research proposals to inform out research pathways.”

PhD student Fabian Mika and Dr Taiarahia Black

PhD student Fabian Mika and Dr Taiarahia Black Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Dr Taiarahia Black is Professor of Māori and Indigenous Studies at Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiārangi in Whakatane.

He has produced several publications about the resilient nature of the Tuhoe People following the impact of colonisation.

His masters thesis focused on songs composed by the prophet Te Kooti and the historical narratives and colonial references contained within.

Dr Black's body of work largely relates to the Ringatu Faith and the resilience nature of the Tuhoe people following the impact of colonisation, which also forms the basis of his research paper Reclaiming Māori history: teaching truthful respectful colonial history.

His programme Better Understanding and Implementation of Matauranga Māori and Tikanga to Build Resilience is about implementing iwi knowledge into hazard-resilience strategies alongside communities to create a template for researchers, students and communities.

Dr Black's work is focused on the recovery of Te Reo literary expression and philosophy, recapturing reo historical truths, and compiling reo knowledge connected to hazards which ties into Māori philosophies and knowledge systems.

“They’ve [researchers and scientists] have established a platform for resilience national science for Māori to develop excellence in research and…they’ve identified, in my view, top leadership in Māori research opportunities.”

Lucy Carter is Māori Social Scientist at GNS Science, Lower Hutt.

Lucy Carter is Māori Social Scientist at GNS Science, Lower Hutt. Photo: ROSS COOMBES

Lucy Carter was inspired to study disaster and risk following the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake in 2011.

At the time she was a student at Otago University.

“It was probably the thing that had the most profound effect on my whanau and community. We’re all still feeling it today and it’s what really got me interested in studying disasters.”

In 2012, Lucy worked at Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tahu and from 2014 she studied Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University.

In 2016, she returned to Aotearoa and took a job at GNS Science.

Students from Hukarere Māori Girls school at Maraenui Bi-lingual school.

Students from Hukarere Māori Girls school at Maraenui Bi-lingual school. Photo: Lucy Carter

For the Resilience Challenge, Lucy developed an activity programme for tsunami risk-reduction in Kura kaupapa Māori (Māori language immersion schools).

For the pilot, high school students from Hukarere Girls' College designed a kete of resources for younger kids at Maraenui Bilingual School.

“I was really interested in doing a project that was able to combine my passion of indigenous and Māori disaster management as well as my interest in children in schools so designing something for kura kaupapa Māori and bilingual kura seemed like a really good intersection between these areas.”

Lucy Carter is involved in the New Zealand ShakeOut - a nationwide earthquake drill and tsunami hikoi on 18th October.

Lucy Carter, Dr Wendy Saunders and Diane Bradshaw at Omokoroa, Bay of Plenty.

Lucy Carter, Dr Wendy Saunders and Diane Bradshaw at Omokoroa, Bay of Plenty. Photo: supplied