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Restoring the awa

One Wairoa group is battling the climate crisis by reviving the mana and mauri (life force) of their awa.

In 2018, Wairoa resident Leeann Whatuira decided something needed to be done about the poor water quality, pollution and declining fish population in the Wairoa Awa.

She put a call out on Facebook, and asked what could be done. “Plant trees” was the response.

She decided to form the Wairoa Ngahere Community Nursery. The name says a lot, a ngahere (bush) nursery there for the Wairoa River and community.

Wairoa District Council gave the nursery some overgrown land that used to be a community garden, and they received community guidance from people about how to build shade houses and grow native plants.

The nursery has nailed their original target of growing 20,000 plants each year — from here on they will be nurturing plants and the community to look after their awa and whenua.

While it is a privilege, it has been a hard journey, Mrs Whatuira said.

“The journey that we've had, it hasn't been an easy one. Sometimes I've wanted to walk away from it all, but then I think about our river, our people and our volunteers that have dedicated themselves to this.”

“For me as a Maori woman, the river is us, we are the river, our whenua, our land. I was born here and I've noticed the changes of our river. I've seen the devastation of erosion, the pollution, and our fishing.

“We want to preserve our lands and our waterways. If we can be a small part of that as a group, it's a privilege.”

Nursery volunteer Jan Doran says it takes guts and determination to tackle climate change, and a mind shift in the community and nationally.

“I found with people you can't bully them into your point of view, they have to come to that conclusion themselves.”

She got involved with the group because she's passionate about educating and showing the community that agriculture can exist and be good for the environment.

LEADING THE CHARGE: Leeann Whatuira established the Wairoa Ngahere Community Nursery in 2018. Picture supplied
CREATING CHANGE: Wairoa Ngahere Community Nursery are a group working to revive the Wairoa River. Picture supplied