Report of the 6th National Conference

Te Riu O Hokianga Environmental Health Through Maori Community Development

Page last updated: 07 July 2008

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“Te Riu o Hokianga Environmental health through Maori community development.”

Maria Hepi and Marara Rogers, Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd and Hauora Hokianga Health Marara Rogers

“I would like to acknowledge the traditional peoples of the land and Elders. It is a privilege to stand here with my Elders behind me to meet with you. Thank you to those who organised this conference,and who allowed us to come and share what we do in New Zealand. This project – here is a picture at the back – is a picture of the ocean where we get the fish, seafood, muscles, paua (abalone) - you name it, we have it, but we could lose it with pollution that is flowing into our seabeds.

There are a number people involved in this project from all over New Zealand:

  • Te Riu o Hokianga: environmental health through Maori community development research design – (evolving world of kaupapa Maori research).
  • Reflections on a bi-cultural partnership.
Our presentation will cover:
  • Background and significance.
  • Mahinga kai (food gathering) impact.
  • Marae onsite waste water management project.
Health Research Council (HRC) three-year research project
  • Background and significance.
  • Mahinga kai (food gathering) impact on our environment of human wastage going into our water ways.
  • Marae onsite waste water management project.
ESR and HHET Partnership – Contract with HRC Research, Kaupapa Maori, action/participatory Hokianga Health Organisation service 6,000 people, who are predominantly Maori people. We have community clinics and 36 maraein catchment area – this project is about how to keep people safe on the marae. For example, farmers and cows crossing creeks.

Maori have a different way of looking at the land - we see our genealogy, the sacred past, ancestors, our marae, ourselves, and it is the living future of our people.

The Project started as a result of the marae people to look at how they could work on their ablution blocks that were no longer able to take the capacity of visitors who came there. We are tribal people, with the Nga Puhi tribe and Te Rarawa tribe either side of the catchment area. There are 36 marae, most of which are carved.

As Hokianga Health we went to ESR to ask how we could help these people. Together we put a proposal to the Health Council and received funding for three years to look at barriers for Maori people on their marae.

The outline of the project research, community development, relationships and outcomes.


Marae – ‘state of the art’ – capacity, lay of the land, type soil, system design, health protection, food safety , Auahi Kore, water supply,streams, use of streams, grey matter.

Comunity Development

Marae project management, informed decision-making, dynamics of whanaungatanga, skills development, maintenance programme,oral histories/preserve historic memories, take responsibility to reject pollution, support restoration.


Runanga – Te Rarawa/Ngapuhi, FNDC, Funders – ASB/lotteries/other, system tank design and suppliers, WINZ (Work and Income New Zealand), Marae Committees, Kaumatua tautoko, educators.
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Population health, capacity building, intersectoral cohesion, Marae project outcomes achieved, sustainability.

This is a Marae - a meeting place for Maori - where we celebrate occasions such as weddings, meetings, etc. It is used in many ways, and has sleeping facilities. Marae can be carved, or modern in design.

Marae site design features dining room, gift room, kitchen block, meeting room, sheds, chiller, outdoor fire places (originally were internal) and an ablution block.

Taumata Kakenga:
  • Whanaungatanga (relationship building) with anyone who can help.
  • Inter-agency collaboration.
– Tribes: Nga Puhi and Te Rarawa (two tribal areas), regional and local council, health provider, funding agencies,government agencies.
  • The research supports the goal of improving marae on-site wastewater systems, but is also about the processes of how Maori can work with outside organisations to address environmental health problems.
    • It is also about a process we went through, too.
    • Built on prime land and belongs to the people, and was built without building consent. However, legislation has now come into place having an effect in terms of building and resource consent.

Therefore, if they want a new ablution block, they need to go through Council to comply with regulations such as inspections and design, all of which costs money.
  • Therefore, they needed to start fund-raising in order to pay for the engineer, drawing of plans, and we help them by breaking down these barriers with Council.

Project Relationship Tree

Funders, independent engineers, Far North Distinct Council, Northland Regional Council, Northland Health, Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development), MSD (Ministry of Social

Development), National Advisory Group and Environmental Research Expertise.

There was a struggle to meet all these organisations’ requirements, so we have become the ‘in-between negotiator’ so we can support the Marae trust. There are two pricing categories for building consent, and Marae have been classed as ‘commercial’ so they are charged $200 to $300. This is because people in Council have no idea what a marae is or what its needs are.
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Council sees the marae as a tourist attraction, like a camping ground, but nobody pays to be on the marae - no fees are charged. Therefore, we are working with Council to determine another category for marae and churches. One of the things we have done is to bring the people from the various agencies to talk to the community on to the marae, so they can experience the rituals of encounter, which is led by the marae people, the use of Maori language and their hospitality. The marae has a flat structure, with no dominance in the room when we have a discussion. So we are giving them that experience, and also teaching them about humility, because they don’t hold the trump card after all – we do as a people.

Taumata Kakenga Kahukura – The Aims
  • Self-determination.
  • Capacity building.
  • Best practice model.
  • Multi-agency working together – still breaking down barriers and coping with staff changes.
  • Environmental cleanliness – fighting it still, ablution blocks tend to leak and people walk it through into the dining room and spread disease, but we haven’t got evidential information that they got sick - but we know from public perspective it is there.
One marae major outcome for us.

The above are the aims of self-determination. For example, we have one marae that received $1M to get more money from government. They had to design a business plan, eg, of selfdetermination, so they are actually learning about how to do that.

The money comes to them and they use the money as wisely as they can to get through the business plan. It is interesting there is no ‘big brother’ person at the top here, handling their money or being their fund-holder. That’s another capacity-building outcome for the people. Many of these people are unemployed, so learning.

The funder wanted a good outcome and the people had the ability to do research projects on their own. This project has given us that opportunity to have one community member complete her Masters, and I will complete mine next year. I won’t be likely to leave the community, so the skills will stay in the community.

We are still fighting environmental cleanliness. The marae area themselves want to be sure that people are not picking up the pathogens and the E.coli because the current state of marae ablution blocks is such that they tend to leak and children and adults are walking through it to the dining room and they are carrying these things around on their shoes or their hands so it is spreading. However, we have no evidential data to say that people who go to a marae get sick, because when the party is over the guests go back to wherever, and they will see their own doctors if they are feeling sick. However, we know from a public health perspective it is there. We have developed a road map for other marae to follow before they begin their projects. Funders require the title of the land, registration documents, records of meeting minutes and AGMs. Marae need to raise money to pay for the engineer and then all of the costs related to the business consents. It was only a few years ago we had just a hole in the ground, then we got flush toilets, and now we have flush toilets with no working pumps as these can’t manage the capacity of the people who come”.
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Maria Hepi

Process: tua kana/teina
  • Non-indigenous researchers - critical to have members from the indigenous community as tuakana, for guidance and hosting in relationship-building with the indigenous community.
  • Gatekeepers for indigenous community ensured our trustworthiness to be able to work with the community.
  • It is impossible to know another culture as you know your own. Do not presume that you do or can. I’ve been involved with Maori culture for over 20 years, but will never know their culture.
  • Can be difficult/frustrating working within another culture, not being able ‘to be as loud as in your own’.
  • Although sometimes difficult, also very rewarding. Can gain a deeper understanding of issues from dual perspectives.
  • When working on issues from/of another culture, it is important to work with people from that culture in true partnership.
  • Something done differently in another culture is not wrong,merely different - there will be valid underlying reasons. For example, time.
  • Learning about another culture does not happen through a book, rather by hands-on experience.
  • Do not aspire to be the ‘knight in shining armour’, rather a resource/support for the other culture’s own aspirations.
I would like to leave with some quotes for people to think about “Why do they (non-indigenous people) think that by looking at us they will find the answers to our problems? Why don’t they look at themselves”?

“Valid Maori history is ‘history as related by Maori, under the scrutiny of Maori, challenged by Maori and agreed upon by Maori’.”

– Wayne Ngata.

“Not just history but also the understandings of your research”.

“We have a history of people putting Maori under a microscope in the same way as a scientist looks at an insect. The ones doing the looking are giving themselves the power to define” .– Mereata Mita.

These are important lessons for non-Indigenous people who work with Indigenous people whether they are researchers, agency workers or council staff”.

Marara Rogers

“Once upon a time Maori had one colour, but now we are a mixture - we are changing in colour - we have a different shade but the values, beliefs and traditions we carry with us as we

go through life are still there no matter what colour we are. Why do we do it? The future is our children. Thank you”.

For further information

Maria Hepi

Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited (ESR)
27 Creyke Road, Christchurch, New Zealand
Ph: +64 3 351 6019 Email:

Marara Rogers
Hokianga Health Enterprises Trust
Rawene, Northland, New Zealand
Ph: +64 9 405 7709 Email:
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Report of the 6th National Conference(PDF 3631 KB)