Te Paepae o Tangaroa – Ocean’s Speak Symposium

Te Paepae o Tangaroa (Ocean’s Speak) was held in Gisborne 6 –7 October. The symposium was open to the public and brought academics and experts on the environment and oceans together to discuss the future of the sea.

Social Sciences Commissioner, Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop opened the second day of the hui, and spoke about the National Commission’s focus on indigenous knowledge and oceans for the wellbeing of people and planet, these being two of our target areas.

UNESCO Aotearoa Youth leader Ashlee Peacock attended and we asked her to share her thoughts on the symposium.

Q and A with Ashlee

Q: You’ve just been to Te Paepae o Tangaroa, a two-day oceans symposium – what was it like?

A: Te Paepae o Tangaroa enabled korero on shared learnings and experiences with Te Moananui a kiwa. It was great to be in a space where indigenous narratives were being used to define and envision our ever-evolving relationship with Te Moananui a Kiwa. One thing that that really resonated with me was the fact that each speaker identified the ocean as a life giver, a major part of our existence and something that should be respected and reciprocated. They held the ocean in the highest regard – that caring for the ocean was a lifestyle, it was a reciprocal relationship, and that in turn the wellbeing and survival of their future generations would be sustained.

The atmosphere was quite humbling and emotional as everyone in the room had their own personal experiences and relationships with Te Moananui a Kiwa and the occasion allowed discussion from all fora. There was a common thread of intergenerational learnings through the sharing of knowledge and skills and a huge emphasis on local knowledge, systems and processes for innovation around our relationship with Te Moananui a Kiwa. Overall, it was a valuable symposium that brought together the strands of genealogies across the pacific, to learn and support each other through to an uncertain future.

Q: Where does your interest in the sea come from?

A: My whakapapa links me directly to the oceans in every part of my existence, past, present and future. I am connected to the waters of Ipipiri in the Bay of Islands. My hapu and Iwi is Ngati Wai (literally, ‘of the water’) and I have grown up on the shores of Hauai Bay, Te Rawhiti (Bay of Islands). I grew up learning to gather seafood from a young age from my nannies, aunties and uncles. My tupuna used the ocean every day. Nowadays, my family are literally the kaimoana gatherers when it comes to special functions or tangihanga (funerals). The ocean is not an ‘interest’, rather it is a vital part of my identity, my family and my community. Without it, I cannot be me. It’s something that heals me and connects me to my ancestors. When I am gone, through our stories and existence, the ocean will also connect our future generations.

Q: What’s one idea or korero that’s stayed with you since the symposium?

A: I am fully inspired by all the indigenous dialogue, concepts and learnings that occurred. One key idea was asking, “who is the ocean and how can we better reflect that ideal within our own systems of governance?” Thus, placing the ocean at the forefront of our planning and management.

One korero was challenging the idea of ownership and emphasising the use of legal personality to transform our system, providing an alternative to the assumption of sovereignty over the natural world. In this sense, using our observations of our taiao (environment) to respond appropriately to the issues our tuakana (Te Taiao) are facing.

I also really resonated with the idea that our mātauranga (knowledge) rests within us, we need to see it as an opportunity to prepare and that we (Māori) are the youngest whakapapa group in the Pacific, likening our role to Maui and understanding that the Pacific is our tuakana and that we can also step back and learn.

These korero really made me think about how we are interacting with our environment and what kind of actions we are using to take care of it. Being in a space where indigenous knowledge is identified as an answer makes me feel that we need to invest more into such knowledges to help us respond to environmental issues that we’re facing now.

Q: How is the future and sustainability of our oceans shaping up?

During the symposium, even the term ‘sustainable’ was criticised. Is it the right terminology to describe our environment and its wellbeing or does it still permeate a consumeristic narrative that puts humans, again, at the centre of the ocean narrative?

Allowing for more Protected Marine Reserves throughout the world with an emphasis on indigenous governance would give our oceans the chance to regenerate. It was highlighted that commercial fishing continues to rape and pillage our oceans.

Where local communities are enforcing their own systems and processes to manage their natural resources, the legal system needs to support and recognise these traditional mechanisms to enable better governance at a local level and also endorsing ancestral rights to increase and manage natural resources.

The ocean will exist forever and always, how we chose to interact with it will determine whether it will continue to sustain us. We must prioritise the wellbeing of our Oceans rather than using it for economic growth. However, the challenge seems to always be balancing the wellbeing of our environment versus economic wealth and job opportunities.

Global mind shift and attitude change is required for the wellbeing of the environment.

Q: Where to from here? Do you have a vision for the wellbeing of our oceans?

A: For my own area in particular, I hope our own systems and processes can be used to mitigate the effects of overfishing. I hope that we can create a governance system that prioritises the wellbeing of our moana so that our community can ensure our Pataka Kai stays healthy and in turn, ensuring that our people are well and healthy. I hope through our own capabilities, that we can activate kaitiakitanga (guardianship) within our own rohe without being dictated by crown processes.

On a global scale, I really hope that we can use innovative technologies in line with indigenous perspectives to create a relationship that values and prioritises the reciprocal nature we have with the ocean. At the end of the day, we all have a responsibility to our environment. What can you do to ensure its health? What can we do to ensure our relationship isn’t dictated by the economy?

I would love to see more action that includes our youth engaging with our oceans within our education system. Also, providing more spaces that emphasise intergenerational learnings and sharing of knowledge within our communities. Finally, I would like to see indigenous knowledge be posited at the forefront, or at least alongside western systems as an alternative to how we currently deal with our natural resources.

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