Farmers learn about protecting Māori food sources

Environment Canterbury has appointed a cultural land management advisor to help farmers on land near Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere understand and comply with new rules designed to protect mahinga kai – traditional Ngāi Tahu food resources and their ecosystems. Mananui Ramsden talked to Tony Benny.

The significance of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere as a source of mahinga kai

Protection of mahinga kai is enshrined in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, under which Canterbury is divided into 10 catchment zones, each with its own challenges. Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere is in the Selwyn Waihora zone.

The lake has huge significance to Ngāi Tahu historically and as a place to gather food but today it is seriously polluted, with much of that blamed on farming. Under the Selwyn Te Waihora Water Plan, a Cultural Landscape Values Management Area has been established around the lake and farmers within this now have to include mahinga kai targets in their farm environment plans

Mahinga kai is a broad concept that includes species, natural habitats, materials traditionally used for harvesting food and places where food or resources are gathered.

There are about 150 properties in the lake zone affected and another 200 within 20 metres of several waterways that flow into the lake. Farmers will be required to protect mahinga kai which for some will mean fencing waterways and excluding stock.

As part of its effort to explain the new rules to farmers, Environment Canterbury has appointed a cultural land management advisor, Mananui Ramsden.

Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere has huge significance for Ngāi Tahu as a place to gather food, but it's seriously polluted.
“I was raised in a family that have long been involved with cultural awareness and rūnanga and tribal level politics. It’s been a part of my upbringing,” says Ramsden.

Selwyn Waihora zone manager Michaela Rees understands Environment Canterbury is the first council in New Zealand to appoint a cultural land management advisor and she says it’s important to have people who can build relationships in the community.

“Mananui’s role is to engage with landowners, farm managers, different industry groups, people who are affected, so they can understand what mahinga kai is and then what that means for them on-farm.”

Six months into the job, Ramsden says it’s an exciting opportunity to help and be part of change in Canterbury.

Zone manager Michaela Rees on a planting day and a day out at the Noho Marae
“The most important part of the job is understanding context, understanding how we’ve arrived here and all the different legislative plan changes and water management strategies and building relationships so we can discuss those.”

Ramsden, 29, has already organised two “shed meetings” where farmers have been shown how protecting mahinga kai has been incorporated successfully on-farm.

He reflects on the circuitous route by which he came to the job. His first passion was rugby and his dream was to be a professional player.

“I did really well, I was in many academies, made many age grade teams, played with some awesome people but just fell short on the next step here in Canterbury,” he says.

“I realised there’s more to me than this, I want to develop myself in other ways and I went mining. Three months later I was operating a heavy dump truck at Christmas Creek (iron ore) mine in Western Australia.

“I had a whirlwind of experience in production mining where they don’t talk to you for six months, you’ve got to earn it. Maybe after six months you’ll get to sit next to someone in the smoko hut.

“You’re in the business of moving dirt and your life is in someone else’s hands so if you don’t get a good vibe off someone or they don’t fit in, or you’re a cowboy, the inner circle will identify that straightaway. It’s people, relationships, but also actions, you’ve got to earn respect.”

After three years in Australia, Ramsden was called home when his father Peter fell ill.

“Dad has a lot of responsibilities at a rūnanga and tribal level and I started attending hui on his behalf. I started just listening, just being present and then it was, ‘Oh no, I’ve got something to say about that’.”

Ramsden attended hui about resource management issues here affected rūnanga were not consulted and where they believed mahinga kai would be adversely affected.

“That lit a fire under me – as Treaty partners, we matter. To me it was poorly managed and there needs to be a better way to manage our resources, how we manage it collectively.

Mananui Ramsden is Environment Canterbury cultural land management adviser.

“I had a cousin noticing me and he said, ‘Have you seen this role advertised at Environment Canterbury?’ I thought I could probably do this, this is a good opportunity to enter the space I really want to be in and I really care about and so I applied for it.”

Ramsden has now met many farmers who are sceptical about the new rules and unfamiliar with mahinga kai concepts.

“For our farming friends, mate this is the first time, unless they’ve seen it on the news or their kids come home singing a waiata.”

“When I turn up on-farm it’s starting a relationship, ‘This is who I am, let’s talk.’ I sit there and listen and the first thing that comes out is emotion, followed by a little bit of pointing. ‘Aren’t you Ngāi Tahu? Well, this is the first time we’ve ever seen you, where have you been?”

A few farmers have suggested, bluntly, that he leaves. “I know where I stand with that, the first engagement has started and we just keep those relationships warm, it’s a phone call, it’s a text message.”

But he says the “tough ones” are a small percentage and most people are welcoming. “I’ve had the narrow-mindedness but socially that starts getting ruled out by their own peers saying, ‘Hang on, we actually need this, because unless you’re an expert on mahinga kai, do you know what this means?

“The lightbulb moments go when they understand what kaitiakitanga means, stewardship, or manaaki, to support, or rangatiratanga, leadership. These are all values that are present today and have been for generations, in both cultures with different names. Once you get the opportunity to talk about it, that’s when we grow.”

“All they need is an understanding of what mahinga kai is, what it looks like on-farm, and how we can support them with this land use consent process as a zone delivery team.”

Ramsden is quick to acknowledge that farmers, like Ngāi Tahu, embrace their role as guardians of the resources on their land and they are already implementing good management practices which will have a direct impact on water quality and, in turn, mahinga kai values. With support from DairyNZ, Synlait, landowners and rūnanga, Ramsden has led the two shed talks, one on an organic cropping farm at Harts Creek, near Te Waihora/ Lake Ellesmere (October 26) and a second at a dairy farm near Dunsandel (2nd November). Other talks may be held elsewhere in future.

“My story won’t really vary about mahinga kai. What will make it unique is that second half, the stories of the properties which are very different,” he says.

It’s early days but Ramsden has some simple aims. “What I’d like to achieve is that mahinga kai becomes a household term, we understand it and it’s just something we do. I’d like to think that a guage of my success is that not just Māori but a greater audience of Kiwis have a capacity and understanding around our culture and the values.”

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