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Preserving the past to protect the future

Ngāti Kuri whānau are weaving together Māori knowledge and science to help safeguard their cultural and environmental heritage – and future – in a sustainable way.

Andrew showing tauira a preserved anglerfish

Rangatahi (youth) from the towns of Ngataki and Te Hapua at the very tip of Te Tai Tokerau Northland have travelled to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and Pōneke Wellington as part of their year-long project exploring mātauranga (Māori knowledge) and pūtaiao (science).

The tauira (students) kaiako (teachers) and whānau have visited Auckland Museum, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium, Te Papa Tongarewa and Wellington Museum, along with a special tour of NIWA’s fish collection and a field trip in Wainuiomata with experts from GNS Science.

The purpose of the project is to have Ngataki School and Te Hapua School students – the future of Ngāti Kuri – learn and understand how to be knowledge holders and kaitiaki (environmental guardians), as well as adopt roles as positive contributors to their community.

“It’s been great seeing the kids’ eyes light up with all the connections they’re making,” says Tracey Ashby, Acting Principal at Ngataki School. “Different topics interest different students so they’re all getting a great experience. They also have to use local knowledge to answer questions so this is really bringing that to life for them – it provides so much more than just reading books can do”.

NIWA scientist showing tauira a giant sea slater (louse)

Jannie van Hees, a language and childhood education specialist at the University of Auckland, says that this project is unique due to the learning being driven by the students’ pepeha (personal introductions based on identity and heritage) – including their maunga (mountains), awa (rivers), whenua (lands) and moana (sea).

“I love how they’ve taken the classroom outside – we’ve been looking at the structure, ecosystem and climate of the students’ maunga and now we’re exploring the awa,” Jannie says. “I particularly like how everyone is upholding the traditional language and knowledge of the area, while growing their scientific language.”

When the tauira and kaiako explored their local rivers, they tested the clarity, pH (acidity), temperature and the algae levels.

“I really liked going out to the awa and doing that,” says Khyah, 11, from Ngataki School. “And the awa are all pretty healthy so far.”

Classmate Elijah, 11, adds, “I liked seeing all the different species that live in the awa.”

Jordan, 11, from Ngataki School says that a highlight for him was exploring the plant archives at Te Papa in Pōneke, “It was cool seeing all the old plants and seaweed they had there.”

Tauira looking at the plant archives at Te Papa

Te Papa scientist Andrew Stewart also took the group on a tour of NIWA’s fish archives later that day.

From deep-dwelling anglerfish, gigantic Sunfish, to the now-extinct grayling – the students saw how a vast range of fish were preserved and how they help scientists build knowledge about sea life.

The grayling, known by Māori as upokororo, is a poignant symbol for what happens when natural taonga (treasures) are not looked after by kaitiaki.

“Nobody wants to lose more native fish,” Andrew says.

The group then made their way to NIWA's office in Hataitai to explore other sea creatures that had been preserved by scientists, including a giant sea louse, corals and kōura (crayfish).

Tauira using a microscope to look at coral samples

Visiting Te Papa's and NIWA's archives also complemented the group’s earlier trip to Maitai Bay in Te Tai Tokerau.

At Maitai Bay, the tauira, kaiako and whānau explored and observed the area by snorkelling and sketching or writing down what they could see, smell, hear, taste and feel.

They also listened to kaitiaki Whetu Rutene talk about why there is a rāhui (restriction/ban) on fishing in that area for the next two years and the research that is happening there.

“As Māori we walk into the future backwards,” says Ngāti Kuri kaumatua Pene Waitai. “So looking at what our ancestors and what scientists already know can help these kids look after our future.”

Tauira and whānau at Maitai Bay

About the project

Ngataki School logoTe Hapua School logoNgā kaitiaki o Ngāti Kuri – Our Future Scientists is run by Ngataki School in partnership with Te Hapua School, with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.

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Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

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