Ngāti Kuri leaders join Pacific counterparts in sharing climate solutions

A group of participants at the Oceania First Voices Regional Forum
Success Story

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has brought indigenous leaders from across the Pacific together to share their experiences in the face of accelerating climate, ocean and nature crises.

Nearly a hundred representatives from Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands gathered in Suva last week for the Oceania First Voices Regional Forum – a summit that gives a platform to indigenous voices across the Pacific and connects those most impacted by our changing climate.

The message from those attending was clear: the voices of indigenous communities will be key to solving the climate and biodiversity crises – but only if these voices are heard.

WWF-New Zealand’s Chief Executive Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb attended the forum with Ngāti Kuri representatives Sheridan Waitai and Toka Maaka.

Waitai is Executive Director of the Ngāti Kuri Trust Board, leading a range of environmental work locally and nationally for iwi. She has been a staunch advocate for the creation of a vast Kermadec/Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary to protect one of the last precious and untouched places on earth - a proposal the Coalition Government last week dispensed with.

Toka Maaka is also a member of the Ngāti Kuri Trust Board and leads biosecurity and biodiversity work for the iwi. Over the last decade he has facilitated predator control activities to help support the survival of native wildlife and work to bring threatened taonga species like Rātā Moehau / Barlett’s Rata back from the brink of extinction.

Waitai and Maaka say the Oceania First Voices Regional Forum was an opportunity to share stories of the work they are doing locally and their aspirations for the future.

Sheridan Waitai says that it was upsetting to hear other indigenous leaders describe the impacts that our changing climate is wreaking on their lands, waters, and islands - but that there are inspiring examples of communities taking actions that are grounded in traditional knowledge and cultural practice.

“Governments need to get over their fear of indigenous leadership and self-determination. What have we got to lose? Support and investment is needed to scale up actions of indigenous practitioners globally to counteract climate change,” she says.

Reflecting on the value of the forum, Toka Maaka says, “Indigenous peoples across the Pacific want the same things for our environment, we have different pathways to get there for ourselves and each other. We need each other. Spending time to understand one another at a community level is critical to enabling us to save our homes for all our grandchildren.”

The forum also gave participants the chance to identify future opportunities to work together with other indigenous leaders and communities across the Pacific, including in the context of upcoming international climate, oceans, and biodiversity negotiations and the delivery of on-the-ground projects.

Just recently Ngāti Kuri partnered with the Girringun First Nation of Queensland to learn traditional cultural fire practices to prevent wildfires and protect the environment.

A group of Girringun rangers visited Muriwhenua earlier in March to share their cultural knowledge around wildlife prevention and conduct controlled burns. The insights will go towards the development of a wildfire prevention and response plan to help Ngāti Kuri respond to the rapidly changing climate.

Both Waitai and Maaka say they hope the forum in Suva will result in similar knowledge-sharing and advocacy projects in the future.

WWF New Zealand’s CEO Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb says the forum was an opportunity to support those who are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and are disproportionately impacted.

“Indigenous communities in Aotearoa New Zealand and across the Pacific are not only on the frontline of the climate and biodiversity crises, but they also hold the key to solving these existential challenges,” she says.

“Māori and other indigenous peoples around the world have been expertly caring for our natural resources since time immemorial, and know intrinsically that nature is something we depend on and should cherish, rather than just a commodity for us to exploit.”

“If we are going to make any progress in tackling climate change and nature loss in Aotearoa, then we must embrace mātauranga Māori and the deep knowledge and expertise held by tangata whenua on how to be sustainable stewards of the natural world.”