By Rosemary Rangitauira 24/05/2021

A primary goal for Thomas (Tame) Malcolm is to reinstate the mauri (life force) of the country’s forests by getting rid of pests, introduced to Aotearoa, that are destroying native flora and fauna.

He hails from Ngāti Tarāwhai, Ngāti Pikiao, Tapuika, Ngāti Ngāraranui, Ngāti Whakaue and Ngāti Ruanui.

In te reo Māori, he tells us that each forest has a unique language and eco-system which has been impacted by human behaviour.

“He wā tōna, he reo motuhake tō te ngahere. Nā ngā whanonga ā tātau te ira-tangata, kua whawhati taua reo. Ko tāku, hei hāpai, kia whakahoki taua reo ki tōna taumata, kia rongo ai āku mokopuna, te reo i rongo ai ōku tūpuna.”

Tame, who is from Rotorua, explained in te reo that he aims to help restore the voice of the forest by doing what he can so that his grandchildren can experience the forest that his ancestors knew.

With a career of about 15 years in biosecurity, Tame’s current role is the operations manager at Te Tira Whakamātaki. It is a not-for-profit Māori biodiversity network that is made up of champions including Māori scientists from different disciplines, policymakers and iwi leaders who are dedicated to ensuring Māori have a voice on biosecurity issues in Aotearoa.

“I have always been captivated by the ngahere (forest). As a kid, my parents, uncles, aunties and cousins would share knowledge about the bush with us, and I would soak it up. I was very lucky that I got to hear some of their kōrero and fortunate to know from a young age I wanted to work in the ngahere,” he says.

His work focuses on four key areas:

  • Environmental planning
  • Native species protection
  • Iwi and hapū engagement; and
  • Research about the environment and social outcomes for Ngāi Māori

Last year, Tame was named the winner of the emerging leader of the New Zealand Biosecurity Award for supporting Māori to be heard on environmental matters.

He’s now undertaking a PhD that investigates what pest management would look like if it’s designed and implemented from a Te Ao Māori perspective.

“The first aspect is looking at what kawa and tikanga would or could guide pest management, understanding of course that every iwi is different. Mindful too that there won’t be one answer and also some of that kōrero is tapu (sacred) or can’t be shared or discussed.”

He says over the summer he and others tested this theory.

“We did some rat trapping using approaches that are based off of kiore (mice) harvest – so trapping them around trees where kihikihi (cicadas) went to shed their skins, and knowing that the kiore Māori (native mice) use to eat them as they were shedding. This showed some increase in successful trapping rates.”

He’s expecting his research will be published after he completed his tohu (PhD ) in a few years.

The chief executive at Te Tira Whakamātaki, Melanie Mark-Shadbolt, inspired him to further his research.

“Being Māori in this day and age means being a researcher – even if we don’t call ourselves that. Melanie showed me how valuable Te Ao Māori (Māori world) can be to addressing some of the biggest issues today’s society faces.”

Bonus read

Tame Malcolm hopes his research will enhance the lives of tāngata whenua.

“I hope it provides discussion for Māori communities on how, why, and what they can do to protect their ngahere from pests. Not that our knowledge ever needs to be justified but I hope to show mainstream systems that indigenous knowledge is super powerful. It was developed for the survival of people and the land, and we need that right now.”

He leaves us with the following whakataukī from Te Aorere Pewhairangi who he follows on social media.

“Noho hei tauira, kia tū hei tauira. Tauira means ‘student’ and ‘example’ so his quote means, be a student until you become an example.”

Tame also encourages us to follow Te Tira Whakamātaki via social media which shares information about upcoming webinars, wānanga (workshops), and stories/ updates about iwi and hapū the organisation is working alongside.