conservation biology maori

Learning from rongoā Māori

Dr Rob Whitbourne works in conservation in Whakatāne. We talk about how he came to be involved in conservation and how this is driven by
Rongoā Māori medicine.

(note: We apologise for the sound quality of this conversation, the main recorder failed, so this is the back-up. All hail the back-up).

Talking points

Always into nature

Lucky that our playgrounds and experience in life was always based around the bush. My father was always a bushman…when you grow up with people like that they impart on you a sense of understanding….You grow up knowing the names of the trees, where different birds nest, how trees change during the seasons

Sense of curiosity and understanding

(after teenage years in Australia) For a long time after I came back I had this sense of the New Zealand bush as this foreboding dark forest

I went to a rongoā wānanga, a workshop on traditional medicines…it opened my eyes, gave me a feeling of really knowing the bush

PhD focussing on traditional crops and how their significance is maintained today…The bigger question: how indigenous communities engage with research institutes?

The social side of knowledge, isn’t given the same focus – especially when it comes to Western Science and indigenous knowledge systems – the focus is often on factual knowledge and deeper assumptions, ontologies.. and the social stuff isn’t given that much attention..and that leads to a focus on difference…here’s the body of knowledge that one system has, and here’s the body of knowledge that this other system has, or a deeper level, we see the world this way and you see the world that way. That tends to draw out difference and it doesn’t give much room for common ground or interaction.

If we put more attention on the social side of things, on the practitioners, how can the people who do Mātauranga Māori, or people who practice indigenous knowledge in Peruvian communities, how can they best interact? How do the people interact? So the questions are of who has decision making control? How do you respectfully engage with and respond to each others knowledge traditions?

It’s too easy to say these indigenous ideas of nature having a spiritual element, well empiricism doesn’t deal with that so they’re incompatible. But if we say people who work and live in urban institutes and others who live in rural communities, they speak different languages, they have different values, they make decisions in different ways, how can those come together? That gives you more scope to work together.

We lose knowledge when our people are depleted. The two are the same.

We might be lucky to name 5 or 6 plants. We know the world we are familiar with, today we might know 300 logos, before it was 300 plants and animals.

How do we get people connected, to feel part of those places? We are those places

We need to find the spark that’s already there for people – in my case it was rongoā o wananga.

It’s a love of those places, and a love for each other in those places, we are those places.

Environmental management is really people management

A Māori perspective – we are all family (people and land), do you know your family, do you care for them? I’m surrounded by my family.

It reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Activist: Yes, I’ve always stood up to confront and fight for the positive. In a sense of accelerated disruption and destruction there’s a real need for urgency.

Superpower: A genuine commitment to the world around me and its people. I’m an idealist, positive. Maybe that comes from the sense of being I have.

Challenge: conservation on Māori land.

Advice: All of these things require the collective, none you can do on your own.


High expectations

Chris Sarra

This is social justice, it’s clearly a human rights issue, our students have a right to a quality education that is not going to alienate their sense of cultural identity.

Professor Chris Sarra is the founder of the Stronger Smarter Institute. He is Professor of Education at University of Canberra.

Chris became the first Aboriginal principal of Cherbourg State School where he made significant changes to the way that Indigenous students experienced education. Chris challenged the whole school community to have high expectations of Indigenous students and fostered the ‘strong and smart’ approach which embraced a strong and positive sense of what it means to be Aboriginal in contemporary Australian society. This success led to the formation of the Stronger Smarter Institute which was established in 2005 as an innovative partnership between Education Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology.

We begin this conversation by talking about his own school experiences.

Talking points

The teacher that said to the class “Sarra got 75%, it must have been an easy test”…How do you value something that would treat you in that kind of way?

He was sending a message he didn’t know he was sending. As a consequence I never expected more than 75%

The revelation in my heart and mind…the toxic stench of low expectations of aboriginal kids.

I want to finish this course in the same time as everyone else.

I was pretty good at teaching and I really loved it.

I was really angry…Aborigine kids were sold short because teachers didn’t believe in them. I wanted my career to be about changing that.

Challenge my colleagues and change expectations of aborigine kids right across Australia.

We wanted them to succeed, but not at the expense of their cultural identity. A strong sense of… strong and smart

The community) has come through this toxic history…but the expectations, and the resistence behaviour “uncontrollable”, were reinforcing the negative sterotype

I had a different upbringing…for me being aboriginal meant something special

It meant setting about getting them to purge that negative stereotype..I said to the teachers…what I believe is that…I know from personal experience, that if I expect something different and I work hard then we can get something different.

It was baby sitting – limited intellectual integrity

I’m a bit more forgiving now…I look back and they had no reason to believe what I believed – they probably thought I was mad. They were doing their best, but I had a different sense of what being aboriginal meant.

I spoke to the community first and foremost…changing that school…was never going to be changed by me alone. Strong and smart, but I can’t do this alone.

That gesture….remarkable results…outcomes surged….unheard of results…so it made sense that if we had unlocked some of the keys to success, then we should share that wit other schools around the country.

This fitted in with my interests of changing expectations of aborigine kids across Australia. Most aborigine kids are peppered across schools across Australia…less than 20% of the school population.

I wanted people to understand that this was not about (me) being an Aboriginal man, this was not about being aborigine, this was not about being a man, this was about understanding…authority and philosophical approach.

This is social justice, it’s clearly a human rights issue, our students have a right to a quality education that is not going to alienate their sense of cultural identity.

Not alienate their sense of being Aboriginal, schools should be able to nurture in a positive way their sense of being Aboriginal – as it should be for kids of all ethnicities.

It’s also an issue of integrity in out profession.

Part of me says “why the hell do we think we deserve respect when we can let a group of kids slide by the wayside and nobody ever gets angry or outraged about that.

We somehow we conveniently blame the community or the family.

We never seems to put the mirror up and look at ourselves and say what it that we’ve got to change?

A lot of educators, when they saw what (we were doing) said, yeah, this is more honourable, we don’t want to be the profession that lets kids fall by the wayside. We want to shift from a time where people say “well that’s just what happens with Aborigine kids” to a time where people feel like we’re truly making a difference.

If you decide to come here there’s some things you ought to know about – we talk to our kids all day about being strong, about being smart, and we talk to them about the importance of being Aboriginal and feeling good about that.

We’re young and black and deadly…
You can’t sing to me that you’re young and black and deadly and then act like you’re someting else- it was a powerful way of hooking them into the strong and smart vision.

The whole stong and smart thing caused us to go home and have a conversation about where we come from, and the importance of converations.

It is worth wondering about the culture, the artefacts, the rituals that exist in a school…and the extent to which they reach out and embrace kids…or are they designed to keep kids at the margins, keep them excluded.

In leadership it is our job to wonder about those things. There’s no hard and fast answers, the only clear thing is that it is worth thinking about those things – and I’m not convinced that we actually do.

In what sense is the (professional/organisational) culture designed to nurture something positive? And to what extent is it focused on the pursuit of something good? as opposed to a culture that is designed to entrench something less than desirable?

Have we got a culture that is designed to nurture a positive sense of identity, or have we got one that is going to entrench a sense of that negative stereotype, or entrenching victim status,

Are we thinking we’re being good-hearted, but casting kids as victims, thinking we’re being culturally sensitive but instead all we’redoing is nurturing a victim status?

Is the culture designed to bring people in from the margins, or is it designed to push them out?

The stronger smarter approach, the high expectations relations approach has been sustained through changing policy and uptake across the country, that is important to me.

Today there is no place to hide for any teacher or principal in any classroom in Australia who has got low expectations of Aborigine kids.

Those teachers will still be out there, but it’s only a matter of time.

I’m very confident in saying that we’ll never go back to the way we were.

(Super power) A sense of unrelenting belief – a faith in belief of things being able to be different.

My greatest success, and I’m really proud of this is that I’ve been able to step away from the Stronger Smarter Institute – not have to work full time there – and it hasn’t fallen over.
I always wanted to test the leadership credentials of the Stronger Smarter Institute by stepping away from it.
It’s gone to greater heights, and I’m able to but my ego in the box and say, that’s a good thing. That’s the ultimate test of leadership – that it can be sustained without any particular individual.

Activist: I’m pretty comfortable with that term. I know that it’s loaded with a sense pejorative, but yeah I suppose you would have to consider me an activist.

Motivation: A sense of what’s right

Challenges: As an educator had lofty ideas about changing expectations, it was a pretty out there ambition, I’m 49 this year and feeling content that I’ve achieved that ambition. I’m content with going with the breeze at the moment – I’m happy to see what the universe brings.

Miracle: That every Australian teacher believed in Aboriginal children as much as I did. Then right across the world, if every teacher in every classroom believed in children as much as I did, what a world we could have.
advice: That;’s a big question, I’m not one for giving other people advice, but if you believe in someone positive, then stay faithful to that belief.

Dr Sarra was in Dunedin for the New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society conference: Leading for social justice in education (20-22 April 2016). We thank NZEALS for their assistance.

behaviour change maori

Reconnecting to place

Claire Porima

Be curious, be open, allow yourself to have childlike wonder of the world.

Claire Porima is a business and life coach and works with the University of Otago’s Office of Māori Development. She has previously worked for NZ Foreign Affairs and Trade. Recently Claire has led the He Kākano programme
– an innovative kuapapa Māori business and entrepreneurship programme for undergraduate Māori students.

We talk about transformation and explore what sustainability can learn from the journey of discovery of reconnecting with one’s roots.

Talking points

Reconnecting people to a sense of place

The first step is discovering yourself and where you are from.

Kaitiakitanga is rooted in a being so connected to the land, to a place you can return to. This comes with a responsibility, responsibility for that place.

Coaching is a powerful alliance…shining a different light.

(Activist?) I think I take positive action, an advocate for positive change
(Motivation) I’m so motivated by by people who are courageous and taking positive steps towards making positive change in their life – and this has a ripple effect out through their whānau or families and communities.

(Challenges) The challenges I think confront all of us are around creating a greater understanding of things Maori. Of how that can contribute to the development of this country, how it can contribute to the health and well-being of all of the people.

(Miracle) For me a miracle would be for all of us wake up knowing each and every one of us is creative, and resourceful, and powerful, and wise, and talented, and unique, and has the ability to contribute to make change happen in their life in whatever way they can – that would be an amazing miracle. We are all those things, but to know it, and to grab it to know you have the ability to make the changes that you want to see in the world

(Advice) Be curious, be open, allow yourself to have childlike wonder of the world.

communication community computing education maori

Virtual marae

Dee O'Carroll

It’s cold pressing your nose against the screen

Dr Acushla Dee O’Carroll  (Ngaruahine Rangi, Ngāti Ruanui, Te Ä€ti Awa) is a Senior Research Officer at AUT University.  She recently completed her PhD Kanohi ki te kanohi – a thing of the past? An examination of Māori use of social networking sites and the implications for Māori culture and society.  Dr O’Carroll’s research explores the tensions that Māori face as they negotiate virtual spaces and navigate new territories of social networks, highlighting the pressures on kanohi ki te kanohi practice (face to face). We ask if there can really be a virtual marae?  and what are the implications of this on tuakiritanga (cultural identity) and tikanga (customary practices).  What impacts are facebook and twitter having on indigenous ways of communicating? and should marae develop social media policies?

Dee was at Otago Polytechnic as part of the Ako Aoteroa funded National Project in Learners and mobile devices (#NPF14LMD): A framework for enhanced learning and institutional change.



education maori

Living and learning as the environment

David McKay

Sustainability is a way of thinking and a way of being. It’s a way of embodiment, it has nothing to do with study, it has nothing to do with opinion, it has to be with way that you be, that you are.

David McKay is a researcher at University of Otago’s CSAFE. His recently completed PhD thesis considers the relationships between Māori cultural perspectives and environmental education policy or practice.

Talking points

As a science and technology based society we tend to assume that technology can solve everything and tend to overlook that we are a biological species and part of the environment rather than separate to it

We tend to overlook the gap between cause and effect in nature that tends to be from twenty and fifty years. So If I do something I won’t know the consequences for about 50 years, in management we tend to manage for about five years…

Fifty year management plans start to acknowledge the ecological gap

(David Orr) teachers need to be specialised generalists

Our problems started when we began to think we were bigger than nature, we got too big for our boots.

The environment doesn’t have a crisis, humans have a crisis.

It’s a bit like a learner surfer – a grommet – out in the big surf and not noticed that all the experienced surfers have gone in before the waves start dumping , in our society we’ve got an invisible wave building, we don’t know how big it is going to be, we don’t know when it is going to crash,but there’s nothing surer than it’s going to crash – there’s going to be consequences for the history that we have, its just a matter of whether we survive or not. That’s why I’m interested in resilience.

We used to have worms on the footpaths after rains, that doesn’t happen any more, but no one is literate enough of the environment to stop and wonder why. That’s an indicator, worms are in soils that are healthy, if there are no worms than our soils aren’t healthy – we manicure everything, nuke our gardens lawns and parks to control what we call pests…the trouble is they’re not discriminate, they kill the pests they kill the worms… and if the chemicals we put in the garden are doing in the worms in the garden it’s doing in you as well.

No one wants to hear what really needs to be said and done because it’s telling that naughty kid that they can’t play with the stick anymore. Same consequences, just more serious than breaking windows – we’re talking about survival and continuance here. We break this environment, evolution is going to carry on with or without us, what we’re playing with is whether we are going to be a part of that or not.

When the consequences are there, it’s too late. 20-50 years of damage and symptoms building up, it’s going to take at least that to undo it.

Environmental Education, Education for Sustainability, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s common sense

What does make sense is learning for survival and continuance with integrity

Understandings of environmental education amongst practitioners

There’s nothing in the (environmental education) literature that anything like matches up with the “old ways”.

People interpret the curriculum in a western point of view rather than a holistic view

Could we come up with a multi-cultural paradigm?

For many people the environment is something magical, out there, away from where we are. This totally overlooks that not only are we – you and me – in the environment right now, we are the environment.

Engagement and connection is what’s missing.

We haven’t lost the connection…we’ve forgotten it. We just forgotten that we are part of all that is. we haven’t lost anything, we’re not disconnected, we’ve forgotten what we are.

We are inextricably interconnected, interrelated and interdependent on all that is.

We lose sight of this simplicity – and that’s what we need to rediscover.

Elders tend to speak less, but more cryptically. When they do speak it’s a good idea to listen.

It is part of multi-culture that it is cryptic, there are levels of understanding of the same message. Education is about readiness, if you are up to getting the message then so be it, if you’re not then nothing is wasted.

A taonga said to me “you pakeha fellas, You measure the readiness of our young people by them giving the right answer – what the system wants – we measure readiness by our young people by them asking the right questions, and that is a different thing entirely”.

A very important to learning in traditional Māori ways is critical thinking and individual identity, and having the mana and self confidence to be yourself, and stand to your rights and ask those questions and if it doesn’t match up, to disagree.

Living and learning as the environment or as part of, rather than in the environment, about the environment or even for the environment.

People coming from cooperative societies (the marae)… walking with feet very firmly in both worlds, and that’s something awesome.

In many cultural worlds time has no meaning…but timing is everything.

(David interviewees were) aghast at the thought that anyone could think the other way – how could you not understand that you are related to everything – we are all stardust.

Learning is about actualising the potential of being the best of the best of who you can be, and because it is about being the best of who you can be, and we can never be the same, we can never be taught the same things. In a crisis we all know something a bit different, we all know each others’ strengths and we can all work together very strongly…makes a very strong and resilient community.


  • Whakapapa, more than genealogy – it’s about learning about relationships/li>
  • Self identity
  • Survival skills
  • Community cohesion
  • Transferal and continuance
  • Everyone is a teacher, everyone is a learner. Learning is a life journey

    I don’t agree that you have to go to pristine areas – ‘the hills are alive with sound of music’ – no, it’s about understanding that we are biological beings and part of ecology. Pure and simple, if you don’t get that then there is no such thing as sustainability.

    We’re learning for well being, and if you’re well then you can be resilient, a little bit of flexibility and adaptability, and then you can survive, and then you can continue.

    It’s like the car accident mentality – it can’t possibly happen to me”, well it is happening, except it’s not an accident, we are causing the disaster.

    Activist? Not really. Educator. I have a reputation for saying what needs to be said, and not necessarily politely. But frankly we haven’t got time to be polite.

    Challenges: Help shift the paradigm.

    Advice: Get out on streets rather than facebook.


    David Orr
    Educating as if the earth matters

    Soil erosion rate is about 10 times faster than the rest of the world (PCE report)

    Matauranga taio:
    Guidelines for Environmental Education in NZ

    conservation biology marine mammals ocean

    Dolphin Research Australia

    Dolphin Research Australia - Isabela Keski-Franti and Liz Hawkins

    Every little step, every little change that you make is huge.

    In the last of the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series we are joined by Dolphin Research Australia‘s Dr Liz Hawkins and Isabella Keski-Franti. They talk about research, education and Indigenous Management Frameworks

    As well as academic performance, students have to have character strength, they have to have a feeling of citizenship – they have to belong.

    Students have to remember that they belong in the ecosystem.

    Children are very curious, they want to know what is around them, it’s a matter of providing them with opportunities

    One of our traditions is to give something back to our host, so how can we show gratitude and respect for nature and place?

    (On kids fund raising to adopt a dolphin) It’s the interconnectedness of everything, that makes them understand the importance of saving an animal, that even though they don’t have a direct connection but they are doing something – this is empowering them in becoming a citizen – an active citizen in their community.

    If you want to live in the dolphin’s world you would need to lose your eyes

    Everybody can make the changes, everybody has a right to be different

    There is a role for all of us – if you do what your character strength is

    Making the change through connecting with children – helping them shift the status quo of our society.

    To talk about an inter-generational future, we need to connect with our children and help them make connections with their ecosystem – this is activism. We need to be part of the ecosystems and working together.

    We create our world, our reality, dependent on the changes we make.

    (Isabela on challenges for the future) I find myself in a really good place. I am really doing what I love – what I feel connected with. I am an optimistic person. I live every day at a time. I have hope for the future, and I think my work with children helps a lot. And I’m working with people who are passionate about it. This helps a lot, and I’m blessed to be working with people that have great integrity, ethics and works as a team. So I can’t see challenge right now. Life is exciting.

    (liz on challenges for the future). It’s always challenging keeping an NGO afloat – making science sexy to attract and attracting community support.

    Every little step, every little change that you make is huge. So don’t feel overwhelmed by the news or what is happening around you. Focus on every little change that you make on a daily basis.

    (Am I an activist?). I don’t like labels to be honest because I think they limit us. I like to think of myself as…everybody can make the changes, bit everybody has a right to be different. You don’t have to either be one thing or another. There is a place for everybody.
    (I was very busy designing our dolphin education programme and someone asked me to a protest about oil seam coal mining)…I would like to be there, but I didn’t find it in me to be there because I was so excited about designing our programme, my insight was I didn’t have to be there – there is a place for everybody. We need the role of all of us – we do what our character strength is.
    If I am making the change through connecting with children, helping them shift the status quo of our society – the focus inter-generationally speaking, for the families and our future – I see this as an activism. If others want to be more actively participating in manifests…I think that’s perfect we need all these ecosystems working together,

    This is the last in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society.

    education maori

    Dr Khyla Russell

    Khyla Russell

    Dr Khyla Russell is Kaitohutohu to Te Kura Matatini ki Otago – Otago Polytechnic. In this interview she talks about her role, and the partnership between the institution and the Ara-i-Te-uru Papatipu Runaka. In the second part of the interview she describes her research into Kai Tahu perceptions of the landscape. What are the sustainability implications of an awareness that “we whakapapa to the landscape”?

    Shane’s number of the week: 183 Billion. That’s the 183 Billion US dollars estimated to adapt Africa’s roads to climate change. Shane describes several reports that clearly show the impact of climate change – this cost far outweighs what it would take to work to avoid climate change.