By Rosemary Rangitauira 30/11/2021

Mihi mai ki a Dr Te Kīpa Kēpa Morgan, a professional engineer, who’s inspiring a different value system that he says can help humanity thrive and safeguard the sustainability of our planet.

Kēpa affiliates to Ngāti Pikiao (Te Arawa), Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tahu.

For more than a decade, Kēpa’s main research area has been in developing and advancing a Mauri Model Decision Making Framework and the Mauri0meter (which monitors mauri – binding forces).

Rather than our standard world lens where we use a monetary system, the framework uses mauri  as the holistic measure of sustainability against four key areas:

  • Environmental wellbeing (mauri taiao)
  • Cultural wellbeing (mauri ā-hapū)
  • Social wellbeing (mauri ā-hapori); and
  • Economic wellbeing (mauri ā-whānau).

Kēpa says new ways of understanding and communicating impacts are required.

“The Mauri Model Decision Making Framework was created to help achieve this.”

Kēpa, who was appointed to the Institute of Environmental Science and Research’s Strategic Science Advisory Panel in July 2021,  is the managing director for Mahi Maioro Professionals, which has undertaken a variety of groundbreaking research that has helped change our thinking about the country we live in – including:

In addition, the Mauri Model has also been used to analyse and monitor practices and status of freshwater (lakes and rivers), marine ecosystems and geothermal developments – and modelling land-use change and land rehabilitation.

Iwi concerns in the late 1990s over declining lake water quality in the Waiariki district set Kēpa on his chosen research path.

At that time, he says the headline ‘National Disgrace’ featured on a front page of a New Zealand Herald story, which propelled him into his current discipline focus.

“Back then, attempts to discuss the inclusion of mātauranga Māori-based understandings of resource management with scientists and engineers were unsuccessful because the relevance of mauri was not being acknowledged unless it could be measured in monetary terms. The decision-makers of councils did not trust the potential contribution of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge). Rather they preferred to rely on science and engineering solutions alone, refusing to acknowledge that these ways of thinking had created the problems with the lakes in the first place. Lakes and rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand were already in decline and have continued to decline until now.”

He says last year, the Government signalled a significant change in thinking with the introduction of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

“Concepts such as mauri and Te Mana o Te Wai require decision making to now incorporate mātauranga Māori based ways of knowing.”

Kēpa acknowledges the shift is now visible across government agencies and central government.

“The majority of organisations whose research is a significant source of income have now realised that their future competitiveness is dependent on a genuine capacity to deliver outcomes that are relevant for Tangata Whenua as well as incorporating mātauranga Māori as effectively as possible. Within the global marketplace, mātauranga Māori is a unique contribution to science that can not be replicated elsewhere, and the ways of knowing from an indigenous perspective are much less fragmented compared to the capitalist perspective,” he says.

Kēpa is a strong advocate for his people and kanohi kitea (physically present) for his people, including on his marae. He’s not afraid of holding organisations and governing entities accountable through using his knowledge and skills. Kēpa is dedicated, through the Mauri Model, to advancing environmental sustainability and communal wellbeing for Ngāi Māori and all New Zealanders.

He encourages emerging Māori researchers to walk confidently in Te Ao Māori and their chosen discipline.

“Our mātauranga can influence and improve outcomes for Ngāi Māori and many opportunities are being created within organisations to do this. But remember to avoid tokenistic roles and strive for opportunities that are relevant and uplift Ngāi Māori while at the same time providing you with a position that is properly funded and resourced. If you don’t have the support of your koeke (elders) and those with more experience, start developing your support network now by getting involved at your marae.”

Kēpa is currently working on several projects across the country and like many New Zealanders has adopted online wānanga (workshops) and hui (meetings) to continue working during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bonus read:

If you’d like to learn more about Dr Kēpa Morgan, you can read some of his recently published work including:

You can find more here, including this interesting paper:

Also check out the paper called Decision support tools and the indigeous paradigm. Dr Morgan is proud of this piece of mahi and says a key highlight was that he managed to encourage an engineering magazine in England, which covered the research, to include his pepeha (tribal connections) in their article.