* ‘I am the river and the river is me’ – (whakatauki – Māori proverb)
Learning from the river
4am in the ‘tohunga hours’ I sit with Te Awakairangi. This river is known by local Māori as ‘the source of all life’. My aim was to take a sample of the river and work with the river to set my own kaupapa using Mātauranga Māori and sound. Then return it to the source, and start developing my next film work by the end of the lunar cycle according to Maramataka (the Māori lunar calendar). My hope was to affect a change within myself by growing a connection with the Mauri (essence) of this river. Also growing a deeper wairua (spirit) connection and understanding of water that flows through and illuminates the work.
A week after I took the sample from the river, there was a notice of a Swimmable rivers meeting by the Green Party at the Dowse Museum. The statistics vary depending on where you look for information, but almost all of our Awa (rivers) in Aotearoa are polluted – some are safer than others, the Government standard for safety is ‘wadeable’. 1 in 20 children would be affected by some form of poisoning if allowed to wade through a river at this level. Major causes stem from agricultural industry, my Uncle Milan Ruka has been patrolling the rivers in the Far North for years. My Aunty Dr Makere Stewart Harawira has also been working for years with Indigenous peoples here and in Canada for water. These two people, along with my Mother who has been teaching me about conservation since I was young, are my heroes. This is not a new issue, but it is an issue that is reaching critical levels that we can not continue to disregard. Swimming in rivers, lakes and the ocean is what our ‘kiwi kids’ do in Summer. NZ tourism continues to promote Aotearoa as ‘Pure’ & ‘Green’. Tourists and adventure seekers from around the World will be spending a lot of money to come here and risk poisoning – there is nothing on the 100% Pure NZ website about the ‘wadeable’ safety standards of our rivers. Since recording the levels of Te Awakairangi, 11 dogs have died from toxic algae poisoning. Algae is one of our most ancient forms of life, as an integral part of our eco system it helps to purify water by absorbing nutrients and heavy metals from streams and rivers. Natures patterns and systems are constantly evolving to compensate for change and toxic algae is a warning sign. I can tell you honestly it hurts – body, mind & wairua – I come from a people whose connection with nature was intrinsically woven together with themselves.
There was no separation.
My Iwi (tribe) is Ngapuhi Ngati pakau Waitaha, I have been working in conjunction with the Waitaha Executive Grandmothers Council for around 10 years. Over the last few months we have been working on our Treaty claims. The most important issue to us is water, the name Waitaha means ‘Water Carriers’. Water carries the memory of our histories, past and present, our stories. We are seeking PARTNERSHIP with other Nations and Tribes to share our Tupuna (ancestor) knowledge and stories of our waterways Nationally & Internationally, including Governments & World leaders. We believe that through connection we can achieve positive results within our communities Indigenous & non Indigenous.
Te Awakairangi and I have almost finished our time together. I have watched the colour turn from a murky brown colour (above) to almost clear as the sediment settles on the bottom of the jar. In 3 nights time I will return the water to the river. In sharing time with me, the river has been witness to my life, it was not full of the whispered blessings I had hoped to communicate. Te Awakairangi has shown me the realities, that there is so much to do and so many stories to tell. It is at times overwhelming, but our Awa (river), Whenua (land), Maunga (mountains) and Moana (sea) are in trouble. Scientists and Governments can speak what they may, but natures system, woven through the Indigenous peoples of the World is sending a warning to us that is so strong, many can no longer sit quietly and watch. It is a time to gather together, connect and share.
In our culture we are experiencing a dying off of our Tohunga, the teachers who would teach us (the up coming generations) about the essence of things. This knowledge is being lost to the mists that cover this world and the next. Some seek to safe guard the knowledge we have, by recording it and uploading as much as possible to the digital realm. I have always been in two minds about this, since ancient times, it is the student who seeks the knowledge that gains enlightenment. There needs to be more effort than pushing a button and downloading it – this just perpetuates the disconnection. I believe communication between people, person to person, wairua to wairua, grows a deeper connection. The Maori word for spirit is wairua, if you break the word down to components – ‘wai’ means water, ‘rua’ means two. How can you be connected to something or someone you don’t know? Even when you are connected genetically? How can you care about a river you don’t know? What if the river was a beautiful Grandmother or Grandfather you loved and respected? How would you feel about her /him, speak or treat her/ him?
This has led to some real soul searching by me with my Tupuna Te Awakairangi or ‘the Hutt river’ as it is more commonly known. Every time I turn on a tap it touches my mind and speaks to my awareness. Connecting with this river has not been as simple as I originally thought it would be, connection and communication spans across nature’s whole systems. It is going to be hard work and there is so much learning to be done.
I have started with the whakapapa (genealogy) of water, given to me by my Uncle last week. As a Water Carrier this is just the beginning of my journey with water