Matariki plant-a-thon

Megan Salole on a change of name for Paekākāriki’s Matariki planting project with a useful kōrero around the appropriate use of te ao Māori concepts. Buy a pack, and/or join others in the community at Wai Ata this Friday 24 June at 9am to help restore our natural habitat.

Matariki plant-a-thon – 9am on Friday 24 June starting with a cuppa at Wai Ata studio.

Please pre-purchase your pack (see below for details).

Dear village – firstly an apology. I am changing the name of the Matariki planting project. I made a boo-boo. 

I was in a hui this week with Tangata Whenua from across the motu (country) who are working te taiao (the natural world) and aspects of environmental protection and regeneration. They were talking about Pākehā appropriating terms like kaitiaki – some are using this kupu (word) to promote their activity in their private businesses, while others, like me, use it to speak to the role we can when we care for the environment. 

Many Māori hold the perspective that you can’t be kaitiaki unless you whakapapa Māori. This was a revelation to me, but I understand the desire to not have Pākehā (even the well-meaning ones) swooping in and using a term they don’t fully comprehend the meaning of. Kupu Māori often have layers of heritage; some words have very deep and sacred meanings. For me, with English as my first language, this was surprising.

Being an enthusiastic ally of Māori culture, but also someone not naturally endowed with lashings of humility, I guess some missteps are likely. It is a bit of a bummer to backtrack a bit by changing the project name, but the opportunity to deepen my understanding and share those learnings with others is too good to miss. 

What I love about the term kaitiaki, is that it is more humble than the concept of ‘guardian’.  Guardian expresses some sense of responsibility over the natural environment, whereas for me, I see all life, my own included, as being protected and provided for by the natural environment. It’s the boss. 

Tame Malcolm writing for Stuff says “Iwi and hapū have different words altogether for conservationists. I have heard some people from Tuhoe describe land protectors as matemate-ā-one, meaning a deep affection for one’s land. Whereas some hapū have flipped the whole notion of humans being above the environment and considered a protector when in fact the environment protects us and therefore call themselves taurima of the environment.”

He says that “While te reo is in the midst of a resurrection, its mainstream use comes at the risk of devaluing its richness. Most reo speakers would love to hear more reo being spoken and see more kupu (words) being used, but not at the cost of limiting the depth and meanings of the words.”

So in the spirit of being the best ally I can be with the knowledge I know now, going forward – I won’t be using the concept of kaitiaki to describe my activity in the natural environment. 

In some ways it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, so long as we are part of the solution not the problem. But I also think it’s great to grapple with the discomfort and challenges that come from trying to engage with Māori culture. My assumption is that the cringe and well-meaning mistakes are all part of it. Being a privileged white person, most of the spaces I move in were designed for me. But I am also a woman so I have experienced some harsh and uncomfortable spaces that have not been created around my needs. So I can imagine that ‘cringe’ and alienation is something that Māori experience on the daily, moving in a dominant paradigm that was not created around their practices or world view.  

Going forward, I will change my messaging, but not my intent. My whole intention for the planting project is to get us out in our village, taking care of wild and weedy spaces together. I want us to have an opportunity to explore the concept of Matariki,  for us Pākehā to consider the functions it plays in Māori culture and how some of those practices might be useful for us. Not to appropriate, but to find ways that are authentic to each of us. To maybe shed those old things and thoughts that encumber us, to mark and honour our losses, to hope and imagine what our coming year will hold and to sit in gratitude for all that we are endowed with. To use this new holiday to engage practices that will enrich us; like planting and being with our families and community. Like contributing to the world that sustains us.  

So, that said, I would love for the village to come and connect for a plant-a-thon on Matariki Morning – do some weeding and planting and contemplate how we might best use a new national holiday to enrich us, our families and our community. 

Please pre-purchase your pack. You can buy your plants for the plant-a-thon and find out more about the project here.

At 9am on Friday 24 June, we will gather for a briefing, cuppa and scones at Wai Ata studio (the old weavers whare). We’ll be planting behind the Paekākāriki Orchards and Gardens at the Tilley Rd Reserve.

Everyone is welcome to help weed and plant, regardless of whether or not you have purchased a pack.

Paekākā is a community-built, funded and run website. All funds go to weekly running costs, with huge amounts of professional work donated behind the scenes.  If you can help financially, at a time when many supporting local businesses are hurting, we have launched a donation gateway.