Posts from NZAEE (1): takata whenua

Posted on February 17, 2008


Over the summer I attended the New Zealand Association for Environmental Education in Dunedin (Otago Polytechnic was the major sponsor). Now on this wet Sunday with teaching starting tomorrow, what better opportunity to write up my notes…

The opening session was at the Araiteuru Marae. There, after the powhiri and tea we listened to a takata whenua panel lead by Khyla Russell.

Rachel Dibble talked about the impact of tuition fees, likening it to the strangulation effects of the banana passion vine.

Justine Camp talked about Whānau and wellbeing. The measurement of health, she said is the ability of the whānau to carry out their primary tasks – this, she argues, has a close relationship with the environment. She talked about valuing manaakitaka ( Looking after our people), trusteeship and planning. She talked about kaitiakitaka meaning the whanau are part of the landscape and therefore have a responsibility to ensure its sustenance for this generation and for those to come.

Steve Scott talked about the role of kai (food) in education (wider than environmental). He talked about Turner’s book (Earth’s Blanket) and the disconnect between food and the environment. He sees that a focus on kai gives substance to environmental education, giving it more connectivity than what he describes as an “esoteric theory approach” (I stick my neck out here and disagree with this). Environmental management therefore is about enhancing the resource (which Justine had pointed out was so central to wider well being).

James Sunderland teaches Occupational Therapy. He talked about hauora, the Māori philosophy of total health. It comprises taha tinana (physical well being); taha hinengaro (emotional well being); taha whanau (social); and taha wairua (spiritual). He described how they use a constructivist approach where activity and context are used in engaging though activity. Being aware of hauora means a strong awareness of the assumptions behind activities – and like the other speakers, he argued that we are increasingly divorced from these assumptions. He talked about lost knowledge (again, with reference to kai), and to play (being a lost skill), and the emotional ability to connect to past, present and future.

Huata Holmes talked for a long time. He could have talked for longer. It was hot, very hot, but he had the conference transfixed. He talked about the Maori word for enemy: hoariri except that it doesn’t actually mean enemy, rather “wild friend”. “Only a fool does not know himself well”, he said, and, as the other speakers had already said, knowing himself means knowing the environment. Hauta told an amazing story of growing up with an uncle who took him and his sister on year long circumnavigations of the South Island. The uncle had them choose a star (a “wild friend”) and to know it like a brother. Only once they had done this for a year, observing and describing the sky every night, did he start to teach them navigation. Again, the speaker stressed the importance of rebuilding the connections to the environment: “judge a house by its back doorstep” he said.