The battle for the Waiapu has exposed a new front writes Tina Ngata, our kaituhi for the December 2016 edition of Kaupapa Nati. Tina (Te Whanau a Hinerupe) is passionate about the environment, which she shares with students at Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Gisborne, and readers of her popular blog site, ‘The Non-Plastic Maori’.
Ko Waiapu te awa, Ngāti Porou te iwi…
The words fall easily from our lips, most especially when they are accompanied by a melody and a few cuzzies singing along. From our whakapapa, to our artworks, to our waiata, the Waiapu is literally a part of who we are. We depend upon clean water for our kai, karakia, and cleanliness. Indigenous people around the world know this, and around the world we are making a stand for sacred waterways like the Cannonball River at Standing Rock. But right now, our own sacred waterway is facing its own challenges with toxic pollution – through the illegal dumping of rubbish.
Dumping rubbish is, of course, not a new issue. Tui Warmenhoven, who, along with Pia Pohatu, has driven research around the Waiapu for decades, offers her perspective of the issue:
“One of the biggest dump areas that I know of are over by the Kainganga. I’m talking washing machines, cars, fridges, everything. There are others, too – it’s hard for some of the remote areas to get their rubbish to the landfill – but this is also, largely, an education issue.”
These dumpsites, backyard pits, and even the Rotokautuku dump, create a type of toxic soup, called leachate. Leachate is formed from rainwater mixing with all kinds of dump materials: solvents, household cleaners, rust, fuel, battery acid, glue – all of the chemicals that go into making products and packaging. This toxic soup includes heavy metals, mercury, arsenic and lead, and it enters the groundwater and from there enters our rivers, and eventually, our kapata kai.
Here’s the killer: this process (as well as the process of burning para) often results in the production of dioxins. Dioxins are a nasty chemical that doesn’t just kill off fish and harm Papatuanuku, but actually sticks to our DNA and stays in our systems. Dioxins are responsible for infertility, birth defects and increased cancer rates. That’s right – dumping and burning para is a direct assault on your own whakapapa, no matter what way you look at it.
Recently our Tikanga Marae, Taiao class looked at the issue of waste and sustainable lifestyles during a weekend noho at Taumata o Mihi (Rauru) Marae. On the Friday night we were given a presentation by Tui on the Waiapu – 100 years of restoration project. On the Saturday we went for a walk along the banks of the Waiapu, and in just 300 meters we discovered four large dumpsites. We filmed the clean-up and the clip went viral on social media, reaching over 22,000 views. Whanau were quite rightly outraged at the irresponsible actions of what is probably only a small portion of the community. Yet we also know that many more dumpsites remain along the awa.
One whanau that know this only too well are the Atkins whanau, who are left to clean up the mess that washes out from the river and onto their doorstep along Port Awanui, every time there’s a big rain.
“I don’t blame the council for the problem,” says Graham Atkins, “because the majority of us can tow the line and play the game by sorting our rubbish, recycling and putting rubbish where it’s supposed to go. No one can exist today without generating waste. Those lazy, paru, few are the source of most of the rubbish on our roads, public places and beaches. Think before you toss that empty coke bottle or chip packet out the car window. Chances are it will eventually end up in the sea, and as we know the oceans are downhill from everywhere. It upsets me no end that we have to spend our own time picking other peoples rubbish up off our beach. I shudder to think what our beach would look like if we weren’t keeping it clean.”
Additionally, as the plastic breaks down, it enters the food chain, sometimes through fish, often through plankton (which fish eat). The image above shows a piece of plankton. The green dots are micro-plastics (created when larger pieces of plastic rubbish break down). When plastic is this small it attracts harmful toxins which stick to it. The plankton ingests the toxins, the fish eat the plankton, and we eat the fish, and all of those toxins accumulate in our systems. With all of these toxins in our water and kai, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that we now have much higher cancer rates than ever before. Nor should it surprise anyone that the most common form of cancer is stomach cancer.
So yes, the situation is dire, and not only confined to our region. Around the country, dumping and littering is being highlighted as yet another betrayal of our “clean green” image.
The good news is that an opportunity for positive change is before us right now. Every few years, GDC review their waste management plan, and in the coming months another review will be taking place. GDC are also considering other important waste issues such as what to do with the Rotokautuku landfill, which is fast reaching its peak capacity and experiencing leachate problems.
WASTE AS A RESOURCE
Around Aotearoa, communities are waking up to the harm that waste and litter creates, and are not only reducing the problem, but redefining waste as a lost resource that can be recovered, and reused.
The Community Recycling Network (CRN) includes a group of 50 communities from around Aotearoa who manage their own resource recovery centres, diverting up to 80% of waste away from landfill and creating jobs, education opportunities, and affordable resources for their communities along the way.
In the past month, with the support of GDC and Hikurangi Huataukina Trust, Jo McKay and I have travelled to meet with members of CRN as well as Para Kore. Para Kore is a Maori organisation that works with over 140 marae communities to help them move towards zero waste. This year they won the world’s most prestigious environmental award, the Energy Globe Award. Partnering with these organisations can help us put together a plan for council that would meet our own distinct needs in Ngāti Porou, but importantly, provide some valuable education and employment solutions as well.
Over the coming months, Jo and I will be coming around the communities, chatting with whanau about what they see are the real issues, and collecting your thoughts on what some of the solutions can be.
Nobody likes seeing our awa in the state it’s in. I also firmly believe that the Haati Natis by far outnumber in Ngāti Paru amongst us. Our Tikanga Marae, Taiao program – where we hold one weekend wānanga a month at a different marae in Ngāti Porou, learning about the challenges and strengths of our people in looking after the environment – has highlighted so many wonderful, innovative, approaches we have to kaitiekitanga across our rohe. Most importantly, it’s highlighted just how very dearly we love our land and waterways.
So let’s step up, Ngāti Porou, and tackle the Ngāti Paru issue head on, so we can – hand on heart – stand up and sing… Ko Waiapu te awa – Ngāti Porou te iwi
- If you would like to be involved in the submission for waste management, or for more information on the Tikanga Marae, Taiao program run through Te Wananga o Aotearoa, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- For tips and advice on cutting plastic consumption, check out the Non-Plastic Maori blog: thenonplasticmaori.wordpress.com