A new working group has been set up to help Te Arawa iwi and hapū with the growing issue of tackling climate change.

The Te Arawa Climate Change Working Group has been established following feedback from iwi and hapū and aims to ensure tangata whenua are leading the discussions about what can be done on a local level.

Te Arawa Lakes Trust environment manager Nicki Douglas says while the issue can be overwhelming, there are things that can be done locally to help communities prepare for the changes and undertake day-to-day prevention measures.

The idea of setting up the working group came after the Iwi Advisory Group Regional hui, in Rotorua which highlighted some of the work being carried out by the Iwi Chairs Forum. Response around the issue from both the Trust’s AGM, and Kaitiaki forums also highlighted that it was an area people wanted to know more about and help with.

Ms Douglas says the group will focus on both preparedness for the flow on effects of climate change, as well as what day-to-day activities can be done to make a difference to reduce the effects of climate change.

A recent presentation by Hiriwa Tapuke, who has completed her thesis on tangata whenua response to natural disaster, provided inspiration, and Ms Douglas says they also took away lessons from the kaitiaki forum at Whakarewarewa, which focused around observing the environment and responding to changes.

“It’s about getting a group of interested people together with expertise in this area to look at what this might mean for Te Arawa and our environment. We are already seeing some of our community living with some of the impacts, such as the increased water levels in the lakes due to high rainfall.”

Ms Douglas says she was surprised at the level of concern expressed around the impact on the economic base, on industries such as horticulture and agriculture.  She says the interest is twofold – the connection to whakapapa means people understand the need to protect the environment for the coming generations, as well as the desire for people to ensure food and water security.

“It’s about getting a group of interested people together to work out what this means for Te Arawa. There are things that will work for us if we can come together and agree on how to best support Te Arawa moving forward.”

Ms Douglas compared it to the cleanup of Rotorua’s lakes, which seemed like a huge task at the time, but is proving successful a decade down the track.

“We can make a difference. We just have to figure out the ways to do that.”

Ms Douglas believes it is crucial issues like climate changes are considered through a cultural lens.

“It’s in our history to respond to environmental changes and look for alternative pathways. Look at the Mt Tarawera eruption. We have a history of being adaptable and moving forward.

“We also are very innovative. Often iwi Māori are at the front of new technology and innovation and this is a real opportunity to show that.

“Those are our lakes, this is our place. If anyone should describe how they look in the future it should be us. That’s quite motivating for people.”

Ms Douglas says a core group has already put their hand up to be involved with the working group, but they’d like to hear from anyone else interested in taking part. Those interested in getting involved can contact Ms Douglas directly at nicki@tearawa.iwi.nz