Rising sea levels, greater fluctuations of lake levels and increasing water temperatures pose a genuine threat to many hapū and their tāonga around the Te Arawa rohe, and a new group established to address these concerns has already identified key areas where it can make an impact.

The Te Arawa Climate Change working group, established in January to ensure Te Arawa whānau, hapū and iwi are best placed to respond to the significant issue, has already identified two urgent areas of work which need immediate action, says Te Arawa Lakes Trust environment manager Nicki Douglas.

“These are to support to our coastal whānau – particularly at Maketū – and the need to support marae as places of refuge.”

The group has also identified kai (food) as a key theme of its work moving forward, she says.

“There is a growing awareness about climate change among Te Arawa whānau as they experience the impacts of a changing climate on their day to day lives.

“Accelerated rises in lake levels, increasing intensity storm and rain events, as well as higher temperatures and extremes in variations of temperature are just some of the ways they are seeing and experiencing this.”

Ms Douglas says recent storm events have hit all parts of the community, and specifically with the wharekai Waiwaha at Paruaharanui Marae severely damaged by an uprooted tree. This has left the hapū distraught and looking for funds to repair their tupuna, says Ms Douglas.

“Much of our Te Arawa infrastructure such as marae, urupā and cultural sites of significance will become more vulnerable as a result of rising floodwater levels from adjacent lakes and waterways.”

Ms Douglas says the first meeting of the working group resulted in a clear climate change framework for Te Arawa to work within, with a central focus on empowering Te Arawa ways of knowing (our mōhiotanga).

“The framework puts the knowledge of Te Arawa at the centre of our actions. It acknowledges our cultural history as responders and adaptors to crisis and challenge, and highlights the role the working group can play in supporting our people because of the change in our environment.”

“This climate change issue was likened to Te Korokoro o Te Parata – the whirlpool that threatened the existence of the Te Arawa waka on its journey from Rangiātea.”

She says the group has identified four focus area; Preparedness, Education, Research and Leadership. At its second and most recent meeting, the group focused on the development of key actions to support it to deliver across the focus areas, with kai identified as a key theme, she says.

“A key piece of research will be around the longer term impacts of climate change, including rising average water temperatures in our lakes, and the resulting impact on our tāonga species. Early discussions indicate we could be eligible for funding through the Vision Matauranga fund for this work. We will need to engage more around this issue and better understand the needs and views of our whānau and hapū.”

She says the group plans to undertake a baseline survey in the coming months.

“With the increase in storm events, the threat of floods carrying sediments and other contaminants also increases and this creates a risk to infrastructure and health.

“We have been looking at longer term issues such as what happens if we cannot purchase the food we need due to shortages affected by climate, and ways to support whānau to become more self-sufficient and provide for themselves.”

Ms Douglas says marae have historically played significant roles in natural disaster responses, and the capacity of marae to respond within short timeframes in such a holistic sense, caring for physical, emotional and spiritual support, is very important.

Other things being considered are whether different skills are required in a world where environmental change is ongoing and rapid, and ways to ensure the survival of the next generation in a place which is much different to our own, Ms Douglas says.

“As Te Arawa, this is always the lens which we look through – what can be done today to provide for our mokopuna in the future.

“The thing we most want to avoid is loss of life because of this issue. Human life, plant life, aquatic life are essential parts of our whakapapa and our identity. Equally they are part of an ecosystem which we are part of, and need, for our survival – once it is gone it cannot be restored. Te Arawa will lead from this context – sustaining our whakapapa to future generations for all life.”

Ms Douglas says there is a clear commitment from Government to reduce emissions and offset current carbon use, particularly with goals to achieve a net zero economy by 2050, and emission levels in 2030 to be the same as they were in 2005.

“While this is positive, there is a need to undertake reduction measures and Te Arawa will need to be engaged and involved in this discussion to ensure we are able to contribute in a meaningful way and take the opportunity that presents itself.”

Ms Douglas says while these are all matters for local and central government to consider, Te Arawa is taking a proactive approach.

“We will not wait for authorities to come and tell us how they think we should be responding, but instead we will be ready and able to support them to implement a response for our community and our people.

“This is our way of engaging proactively and identifying the needs of our people so there are appropriate measures in place.”

She says the group plans to engage with relevant Government Ministers, including Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who holds the Māori Development, Local Government and Associate Environment portfolios, as well as Bay of Plenty Regional Council and relevant local councils in order to progress its plans.