By Rosemary Rangitauira 05/05/2022


Dr Simon Lambert’s dream is to see Indigenous nations across the world exercising their sovereign rights by adding their say to disaster risk reduction planning.

Simon, of Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana, specialises in indigenous disaster risk reduction, indigenous health and indigenous development, social science, environmental management, planning and policy.

He is currently an Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, but is also supporting Te Tira Whakamātaki in Aotearoa.

“My goal is to have disaster risk reduction as a sovereign right for Indigenous nations. Disaster risk reduction is about lessening the gravity of the risk for Indigenous peoples. These communities should be in a position where they define their risks, and can then define the response and strategy needed to keep their communities safe by asserting their cultural mātauranga (knowledge) and also securing their economic base.”

Simon – who’s currently back in Christchurch – says Ngāi Tahu has demonstrated this through the 2011 Ōtautahi earthquakes.

“Ngāi Tahu was already advancing towards sovereignty and very quickly during that time the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act came into place just weeks after the earthquakes, and where the tribe was named a formal stakeholder.”

He has several papers about the event, including authoring the following:

Simon says Ngāi Tahu’s input provides a tremendous benefit by being around the table because like all Indigenous peoples, iwi/ hapū Māori are kaitiaki (guardians) and want to see their homelands prospering so communities can do the same.

“Ngāi Tahu was visionary in the strategic disaster response as it incorporated their cultural values into the Christchurch rebuild. From observing other Indigenous recovery strategies, it’s clear Indigenous peoples have a vision and when they talk about planning for the future, they’re talking about forever.”

Empowering Indigenous communities drives the work that Simon undertakes. He enjoys advising at the Māori Biosecurity Network, Te Tira Whakamātaki (TTW). And he tells us how he was drawn to TTW.

“We want to empower Indigenous communities so that they can be proactive instead of reactive, while at the same time creating a network of researchers and ringa raupā (staff) who can provide service and support. So as not to ‘burn out’ the regular research fellows, we see, who are enthralled in protecting the environment by mentoring emerging researchers. Because we have a constant urgency like climate change, Kauri dieback or tsunami. So putting in place a system so that Māori can be part of the consultation process as well as recognising the value of tikanga Māori.”

Simon, who has a PhD in Economic Geography, enjoys the ability to work with emerging policy analysts at Te Tira Whakamātaki.

“I try and help them, giving them a steer on, say, some aspects of the research when they are developing submissions on environmental issues. They are so good; we just enable a lot of free space for them to work in before a light review. It’s a productive way of supporting their growth and passing on mātauranga.”

The self-proclaimed urban Ngai Tūhoe, Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana descendant is due to head back to the University of  Saskatchewan in July.

Simon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at Canada’s University of Saskatchewan, and has been there since 2017. He is the current executive director of the Network Environments in Indigenous Health Research National Coordinating Centre.

Simon also supports emergency response services in Saskatchewan by researching how to avoid further traumatising Indigenous evacuees during a crisis.

“My particular interest in disaster risk reduction, you see this commonality of experiences of people responding to emergencies, disaster, colonisation, and events that traumatise individuals and households.”

Simon tells us about an elder from Saskatchewan, a residential school survivor, who he helped to attend NAISA (Native American and Indigenous Studies Association), which was hosted by the University of Waikato in 2019.

“Experiences like those of this kaumatua remind us that an emergency response must be conscious of how to care for communities. In Saskatchewan, a lot of First Nation people have been evacuated from seasonal wildfires which happen during the summers on the prairies.

“People bundled up into school buses, a lot of them then revisit their trauma of being taken from the families and put into residential schools where they suffered abuse, isolation and were pressured to assimilate to western culture and banned from their own traditions and native tongue.”

Simon says the Red Cross there is supportive of the research.

“We’re working closely with them by training first responders to avoid further exacerbating the trauma of evacuees by sensitising them to the history of those living near the wildfire zone.”

Read more about empowering emergency indigenous response management here. You can also click here to access research that Dr Simon Lambert has helped compose including:

* Photo supplied.