I am halfway into a 5 month secondment with Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa down in Whakatane and it is turning into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have long worked with Hapu and Iwi groups but this is the first time that I have worked in an Iwi organisation. There is a really positive vibe around this organisation which, after some rocky years, is back making profits and making a real difference in the local community. No where better is this illustrated than its inclusion as one of the finalists in this years Ahuwhenua Trophy.
The rather spectacular view from a Ngati Awa pa site
Last week I was given a tour around some of the historical sites around Whakatane, as well as looking at the farming and conservation activities going on on one of their farming blocks. The knowledge of the people in this organisation is immense, and the conservation efforts are outstanding. Wetlands are going in, flood protections works have been put in place, and a large scale native planting programme is under way. Along the way, Ngati Awa has developed a good working relationship with the local and regional council (both located in Whakatane) and there have been several environmental projects undertaken as a partnership between all three bodies.
It is easy to criticise Iwi, but take a closer look under the surface and you will find a group of Maori who are committed to improving the lives of their whanaunga. An Iwi is a collection of people and that is at the heart of every single iwi and hapu group I have worked with across the country. Too often we forget that. Yes, this is a corporate environment, but that does not mean it cannot be a kaupapa Maori environment. Tikanga is a practice. It is what we do each and every day. Our walls and our institutions may be of a European origin – but that does not mean our daily practice has to be.