By Rosemary Rangitauira 24/01/2022

Kataraina George encourages emerging Māori researchers to study a discipline that they love because she says passion will help them overcome the toughest career challenges.

Kataraina of Te Arawa is the Environment and Nursery manager at Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara Trust Horohoro near Rotorua.

The Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara uri (descendant) studied Marine biology before diving into Zoology which she loved.

She did her Masters on the short-finned freshwater eels before working for Niwa Aquaculture Park (2005) at Bream Bay, Ruakākā 30km south of Whangārei.

After 18 months, she then moved back to Rotorua to work on a medical project run by the University of Otago with researchers from Berkley Univerity. As a result, she realised she could apply her knowledge across disciplines.

Despite encouragement from her tertiary mentors and family to do her PhD, Kataraina found her calling. She adores working in nature and applying her mātauranga (knowledge) to what she does now at the Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara Rūnanga Trust.

“Science is great and much more theory-based, which isn’t me,” she laughs.

“I’ve realised as I get older that working in the practice-space with people is more me. I find it so much more satisfying being on our tupuna Maunga (ancestral mountain), Horohoro, and seeing how we can make changes.”

Horohoro is a flat-topped maunga and the main feature of the rural farming community with the same name. It stands about 13km southwest of Rotorua. Its full name is Te Horohoroinga o ngā ringa o Kahumatamomoe and is part of the tribal boundary of Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara who’ve occupied the whenua (land) under their maunga for more than 500 years.

In her role at the rūnanga, Kataraina’s already compiled a list of what her aspirations are for her tribal rohe (boundary).

“I don’t want to be CEO or anything,” she says.

“Instead, I’ve got my sights set on more environmental aspirations such as working on our maunga. Creating and implementing pest control to create a natural corridor to Mokaihaha to bring our native kōkako back to Horohoro. So, I’ve given myself goals so I can stay on and keep contributing to improving our rohe (area) and this key goal. Because I want to ensure that when I’m 50 or 60 years old I can look back and be proud of what we’ve achieved as a people.”

Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara has devoted a lot of effort and resources to pest control on the maunga.

“Years ago, the Department of Conservation had reservations about whether we could achieve our dream. To see kōkako on Horohoro again because of the predator problem. But now they’re one of our biggest supporters that thinks the goal is possible and maybe achieve in five to ten years,” she says with a smile.

She encourages emerging Māori research to find their passion.

Kataraina George standing in front of her tupuna Maunga, Horohoro.

“Find what you love because all along the way, you’ll be faced with challenges. But if you love what you do, you can keep working through the challenges. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here at the trust so long. I don’t plan to go anywhere because I love what I do and despite challenges and frustrations, I’m staying.”

You’ll often find Kataraina in Horohoro, doing something with her hands or tramping through the tracks on her tupuna maunga. Mahi (Work) that she gets her tamariki (children) involved in.

“My daughter said to me one time, ‘I’m going to do what you do Mum.’ I said to her you don’t have to, you can choose whatever you want to do. But, I think they see how hard I work because I do take them out and yes sometimes they get a bit bored. But, I want them to experience what I did as a kid with my grandparents who instilled, from a young age, the value of hard work and the fulfilment you get from that,” she says humbly.

Bonus read

You can check out Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara’s Environmental Plan, written by Kataraina George here, and read more about some of the taiao (environment) projects undertaken by the trust here.

Kataraina was also interviewed as part of the tribal confederation’s Te Arawa 2050 Vision, which you can watch here. The vision was facilitated by Te Tatau o Te Arawa, a partner to Rotorua Lakes Council, which represents Te Arawa descendants.