The Far North was hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle, but flooding is far from a new issue in this part of the country – and managed retreat isn’t the solution tangata whenua are looking for.
Whangaroa is home to Nyze Manuel – trustee of Karangahape Marae, kaiwhakahaere of Taitokerau Border Control and business owner employing local whānau. Nyze is constantly switching between her many pōtai, one of which is to help coordinate kaimahi and first responders from hapū all over Ngāpuhi in an emergency, whether a virus or a national disaster. She says the last few weeks have been rough – on top of a rough few decades.
Nyze (Ngāpuhi ki Whangaroa, Ngatikahu ki Whangaroa) lives off-grid on her papakāinga with her husband and whānau and is no stranger to the kinds of tough decisions necessitated by a rapidly changing environment. She sheds light on the gaps and inequity at the grassroots, and what’s needed to ensure whānau are not reliant on anyone for support in times of crisis.
As told to Nadine Anne Hura. This article is the first in a series of short features profiling New Zealanders who are often overlooked in news coverage.
The winds picked up here on Friday night and by Sunday Gabrielle was wreaking havoc. The wind was actually worse this time than the rainfall. Taitokerau Border Control was already in place when people started evacuating. A lot of our whānau live off-grid in flood-prone areas. Some might have a solar panel, a few might have a generator, most have a candle.
We learned a lot as a hapū during the Covid response. Taitokerau Border Control was born out of the screaming of the hapū. We mobilised and stood up 16 checkpoints. Why? Because we knew no-one was coming. Our kaumātua were highly susceptible to a virus we knew nothing about and no-one was doing anything for our communities.
Once again, we knew when Gabrielle hit we’d be on our own. TBC had crews ready at different centres across the whole region. There’s no Māori Civil Defence up here. We’re it. I had a number of conversations with Civil Defence about what we needed, but the help didn’t come.
It really bothers me because we don’t like being in a crisis response space. If you’re prepared it’s not an emergency. We’d rather be in a space of planning and preparation, building the right types of buildings in the right places, being self-sufficient in terms of energy, growing our own kai in circular economies, so that we are not in a position of being reliant on anybody else in a time of crisis. Why are we dependent on kai packs being delivered to us?
The biggest support our whānau need is manaakitanga. We need people to listen to us. When people say “hey could you bring us two generators, a blanket and some kai”, but that assistance shows up five days after the cyclone, that’s not good enough.
It’s a lot for Māori to pull down those barriers and put some trust in you and koha that kōrero to an agency. To ignore the call of the people is to put those barriers up again. Our whānau know what they need, they know the lay of their whenua. They won’t ask twice. It was a privilege for them to ask in the first place. After 200 years of what we’ve had to live through, that’s just the reality.
The biggest challenge is pūtea. We need significant investment into a structure that works for us, not one that doesn’t. We’re not talking about millions or trillions, we’re just talking about the ability to prepare and look after ourselves. We don’t want to be dependent on anyone else and we don’t need to be. We’ll do a better job, and I guarantee it’ll save a hell of a lot more money in the future.
This situation is not new to us, unfortunately. For years we’ve been dealing with flood events. We’re in the process right now of rebuilding Karangahape Marae because it was condemned from so many floods. Every time it rained you’d be picking puha out of the walls. This has been going on since 1973, when discussions about what to do first began.
In the end we had to pull our whare down. We had no choice but to build back in the same spot, because there’s no other land available to us. That was a really difficult decision. We spent a lot of money raising the foundations and I’m still scared to this day about where it’s situated. There was no insurance or funding from the government to help us rebuild.
When the government says “managed retreat?” I say, “managed by who?” Managed for who? Managed where? We know that Māori will not be a priority in this conversation. The priority will be the flash-as whare that are falling down the cliff.
You can’t just pick up your marae, your urupā, your toto (blood), and move it onto someone else’s whenua. You can’t manage someone out of their connection to whenua. We’re working so hard out here within a system that was never made for us. Especially now, with more and more of us coming home. That’s what happened to me. I was living in Brisbane, but I felt the pull to come home. My ears wouldn’t stop ringing when I lay my head down at night. The tohu were calling me. I had work to do back here.
Some of our whānau have been hit pretty hard by Gabrielle. Their homes are in pieces, but they’re not leaving. They’ll stay and re-build. And TBC will continue to support them.
Before the storm hit, I saw one of my uncles tying his cow to his dinghy and I said to him, “matua, why don’t you just move the cow?” He said, “my cow will float.”
He cracked me up. I said, “you’re neat alright matua.”
To donate to Taitokerau Border Control:
Ref: Koha Cyclone relief
This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.