By Rosemary Rangitauira 19/11/2020

In one day with her kaumatua (elder) on the southern shores of Lake Taupō, Yvonne Taura (Ngāiterangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Uenuku, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) found her future career ambition was to raise awareness in restoring New Zealand’s wetlands back to health. 

In 2002 and in the middle of an identity crisis, Yvonne Taura returned home to Aotearoa from Australia. She sought refuge at Pākā (Hallets Bay – Tūrangi) with her whāngai parents; her namesake and Aunt, Yvonne, and Uncle Te Rangituamatatoru Tamaira (Ngā Runuku). 

 Now a kairangahau Māori (Māori researcher) at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research in Hamilton, Yvonne says when she came home to Aotearoa she was sent to her koroua (elder), Rakato Te Rangiita of Ngāti Ranuku who lived on the southern side of Lake Taupō.

“He showed me the surrounding environment through his eyes. For the first time, I learnt about ngā Ātua Māori (Māori deities) who govern the different environmental domains of repo (wetlands), awa (river), moana (lake), ngāhere (forest) and maunga (mountain). 

“My kaumātua talked of the rich culture handed down by our tūpuna (ancestors). Including karakia (prayers), pūrākau (stories), waiata (songs), taniwha (guardian spirit of water), and the concept of kaitiakitanga (guardianship)”, she says. 

Although Yvonne had little knowledge of her taha Māori (Māori heritage), she understood all her koroua shared with her.   

“This was the day I decided I had to discover more. I returned home to Pākā and immersed myself in my culture, marae and in te reo. While at the same time learning science principles and the concepts of chemistry, biology – freshwater ecology. Surprisingly, learning both knowledge systems simultaneously came quite easily to me, as if I was always meant to be on this path,” she says.  

Yvonne’s research areas of interests are kaupapa Māori, freshwater science, iwi environmental management and science communication. 

She currently works in the rōpū Māori (Māori team), Manaaki Taiao, at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research.

“My main mahi has led to bringing awareness to wetland restoration for our whānau, hapū and iwi through the Strategic Science Investment Fund Resilient Wetlands Programme led by Manaaki Whenua called Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland

“The handbook contains personal journeys of iwi and hapū, the successes and challenges of undertaking iwi-led restoration projects and the reconnection of mana whenua with wetlands within their rohe,” says Yvonne. 

Maanaki Taiao has also been named a finalist in the Kudos Awards, in the University of Waikato Vision Mātauranga category, which recognises the top scientists in the Waikato area. The winners are to be announced on 26 November 2020.

“As a team, we’ve made a significant contribution to various publications on co-management and monitoring frameworks in the marine and freshwater spaces, and the development of initiatives for kura, marae, trusts, hapū and iwi.”

She’s thankful to Manaaki Whenua for enabling her to pursue a diverse range of research and is pleased to work with other kairangahau Māori in a dynamic team. 

We asked Yvonne what she’d like to share with emerging Māori researchers.  

“My advice for upcoming Māori researchers is to connect with people in your chosen field. Don’t be shy to reach out and ask loads of questions. Reach out to mentors, both academically and professionally but most importantly look for those within your whānau who can support you emotionally and spiritually.

“We have been fortunate to have our path paved for us, by pioneering Māori academics from the 20th century, and this determination continues today within all of us. We become part of a bigger picture that was set for us all those years ago,” says Yvonne. 

Bonus read 

Thanks to a five-year scholarship from Manaaki Whenua, and amongst other mahi, Yvonne is currently enrolled part-time in a doctoral study. Her rangahau (research) explores the best way to communicate Māori knowledge and collaborative science research undertaken by Māori researchers for Māori communities. 

She acknowledges a partnership with the Science Learning Hub for this research work to create Tuihonoa Te Reo o Te Repo, a suite of digital educational wetland resources. 

It draws extensively from Māori-led wetland research published in Te Reo o Te Repo: The Voice of the Wetland

The team on the project worked closely with a selection of Kura Kaupapa Māori located close to wetlands throughout the country. 

The project is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Unlocking Curious Minds fund. Check out the story links below for more information:  

University researchers swamped with pūtea (January 2020)

Funding for bilingual wetland education project (January 2020)