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  • Rights: University of Waikato. All rights reserved.
    Published 19 March 2014 Referencing Hub media

    Researcher Lorraine Dixon describes what a cultural indicator is and why they are important to Māori. The depletion of taonga species, for example, is an indicator recognised by Māori that something is not right with the environment. Once an indicator is recognised, reasons for the indicator can be worked out, such as why the environment was more conducive to taonga species 30 years ago.


    Cultural indicators help to articulate Māori values within the environment. Those indicators can be determined by the Māori community, and they would determine what type of indicators are required to assess a state of a target or mauri.

    They’re important because the government’s indicators do not really reflect cultural perspective, so we have to develop these cultural indicators ourselves because we know our backyard more than anyone else, cause we have a generational knowledge of our backyard.

    One good example of a cultural indicator is probably taonga species. When you hear kaumātua talk about the types and the quantity and the quality of the taonga species that were here in their time – that’s childhood – in comparison with the types, quality and quantity of taonga species now, you will start finding types of taonga species that are not here today, and other taonga species that are here but are not in the same quantity or quality. So you then start determining that the environment of the past was suited to more taonga species than the environment that we have now. Then you can start developing some indicators on those types of taonga species.

    A cultural indicator is unique to a particular iwi or a particular hapū or marae, simply because there’s that generational knowledge of knowing their environment and their backyard, so they do see trends of change, then those trends acts as their cultural indicators of change. For example, one kuia said that it takes half an hour to fill a dinghy of tuna, and that was 30 years ago, compared to – we can’t even see a tuna swimming in the Waikato River. So that acts as an indicator of a plentiful supply of tuna versus can’t see one tuna, so it actually highlights a change in the environment or the quality in the awa

    We have to backtrack to see why the tuna is not there any more. Then we have to backtrack again to determine the whakapapa of the food chain for that tuna and highlight what is missing from that food chain, or is there something downstream that’s not allowing the tuna to come back upstream? So those are the types of indicators that we then start to develop from a basic observation.

    The Ake Ake model highlights the trends, the different patterns of what was there in the past compared to what’s there in the future.

    …got some tourism. Plants at the back of the marae.

    It is up to the whānau or marae or hapū then to determine what they want back in the future.

    Lorraine Dixon

    Erina Watene-Rawiri

    Timi Manukau
    Turipuku McRae-Wiki

    Kauri Bluegum
    Matawhaiti Nepe-Pohatu
    Tukaroto Mahuta
    Reremoana Marshall-Heremia

    Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Rakaumangamanga

    NZ Eel Processing Co Ltd, Te Kauwhata

    The Waikato Tainui College for Research and Development acknowledges the financial support given by the Waikato River Cleanup Trust Fund which is administered by the Waikato River Authority.

    The Waikato River Cleanup Trust does not necessarily endorse or support the content of the publication in any way.

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