OPINIONĀteaMarch 8, 2020

Our native species are under threat, and we can help them


The government is proposing a national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity, giving power to the protection of our native forests and the indigenous species within. Wellington city councillor Tamatha Paul explains why it’s important we have a say on it.

‘He manu hou ahau, he pī ka rere. I am like a fledgling, a newborn bird just learning to fly’

This is the whakataukī of my iwi, Ngāti Awa, and even my hapū bears the name Ngāti Pūkeko – nō tō mātou tīpuna Hine-wairua-kōkako.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the significance of our manu tāongaWhen we recite our pepeha, we acknowledge our maunga, our awa, our lake, our ocean. If it weren’t for our manu moana we may not have had this, for it was those same seafaring birds whose flight patterns and flock size would have signalled to our tīpuna, as they traversed Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, that there was uninhabited land in the distance. As our tīpuna reached these shores more than a thousand years ago, they were greeted by forests bearing fruit and vegetables made abundant by birds’ dispersal of seeds across the whenua. Our tīpuna were sustained by kaimoana pointed out by seabirds such as kawau or tōrea.

In my mind’s eye, I can recall each time I first laid eyes on one of our manu taketake. I moved to Wellington from Tokoroa, a small timber town in the Waikato, void of native flora and fauna. I remember the plump kererū sitting on power lines; tūī singing in the Mount Road Cemetery next to the Vic Uni Kelburn Campus; the friendly kākā who visited me at my whare on Mt Pleasant Road; a kārearea soaring through the sky with it’s distinctive “ka-ka-ka” as it hones in on its prey, and even toutouwai and pīwakawaka flitting around behind me as I traverse the Polhill Reserve.

I hope I can share these moments with my kids one day, and with their kids, too.

I want to tell them how our tīpuna would place punga fern, silver side up, on the forest floor to be able to re-trace their steps at night. I want to tell them about how the tūī used to be able to karanga, and would sometimes sing while whaikōrero would flow on the pae. I want to tell them how the cheeky kākāriki stole its red feathers from the kākā, and how the tīeke’s refusal to fetch Māui some water would lead to its iconic orange-red saddleback marking. I’ll tell my kids of how the manu got their revenge in the end when the cheekiness of the pīwakawaka, toutouwai and tītīwaipounamu killed Māui by waking up Hine-nui-te-pō as Māui attempted to climb into her vagina to retrieve immortality for humankind.

The pūrākau and pakiwaitara are endless, and these are tales and tools passed down to us from our tīpuna to help us understand ecosystems, biological processes, the appearance of creatures and to even understand the fickle nature of humankind.

The tragic reality is that our indigenous species are rapidly declining. 80% of our native birds, 88% of our native lizards, and 100% of our native frogs are threatened with extinction. 

The government is currently proposing a national policy statement (NPS) on indigenous biodiversity which gives power to the protection, restoration and nurturing of our forests and all of its indigenous biodiversity – birds, frogs, lizards, snails, moths, weta. 

This is the third time an NPS attempting to protect these integral parts of Aotearoa has gone through parliament, and each time has failed. Each time it fails, and the more we allow for capitalist, money-focused politicians to dilute its strength, our manu lose. We lose. Our uri whakaheke lose. And the impacts are irreversible. 

We cannot bring back the moa, nor the huia. 

One of the easiest, and strongest, ways you can help our manu and our ngāhere right now is to make a submission on the NPS. The most powerful thing you can give in a submission is your own precious experiences and interactions with our manu tāonga, thus emphasising the emotional and cultural value that our forests and native species contribute to our everyday lives. If we all gave it a crack, I reckon we might be able to save some of this magic for our uri whakaheke.

What I find most important and exciting about this NPS is the concept of Hūtia Te Rito, which is the indigenous biodiversity Māori customary concept equivalent to Te Mana o Te Wai, as articulated in the NPS for freshwater management. 

Hūtia Te Rito is derived from the whakataukī: ‘Hūtia te rito o te harakeke, kei whea te korimako e ko? Ka rere ki uta, ka rere ki tai. Ki mai ki ahau, he aha te mea nui o te Ao? Maku e kī atu, he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.’ This whakataukī says if you pluck from the centre of the harakeke (which is used often to describe a whānau or a community), where will the korimako sing? When you ask me what the most important thing in the world is? It is people, it is people, it is people. Many quote this in reference to people being the most important thing in the world – but actually, the origin of this whakataukī speaks to the need for balance between people and planet. 

Another important concept to this entire framework is “Ki uta ki tai” which is a mountains to seas approach which acknowledges that disruptions to the mauri of the environment, whether at the top of a maunga, through the headwaters of an awa, in a forest, in wetlands or in the air – it acknowledges the interconnectivity of the environment, especially for our indigenous biodiversity. 

The opportunity this policy statement presents isn’t a chance to achieve balance. There isn’t even a semblance of balance, currently. We have wiped out countless species without thinking of the quantifiable loss to the quality of our life and the life of our children. Here is an opportunity to make it right.

Our manu and our ngāhere are our rhyme and our reason.

Submissions on the NPS can be made here.

Keep going!