Tag Archives: Environmental

Mysteries of Matiu Island

Tuesday, September 5th,

Today our class found ourselves on the glorious island of Matiu, or as some call it Somes island as well. Being owned by the Maori but operated by the Department of Conservation I was curious to see how these ideas came together on the island. While the previous day the rest of the group and myself went off exploring the island and interacting with its environment, today we got to see the Maori portion, or lack thereof in Matiu Island’s case and how it intersects with the environment.

A view of the island’s edges.

After our class session and some down time on the island, we got to meet with one of the rangers who provided our group with a lot more information on the Kaitiaki Plan and the Maori representation on the island, which other than the carved gate we saw at the wharf of the island was simply non-existent. From the ranger, we learned of the reason for this: despite the lower down rangers wanting to get the local Iwi’s (tribes) who owned the island involved more heavily, their efforts got consistently bogged down by the bureaucracy. The rapid turnover that takes place on the trust board that deals with Matiu Island makes things incredibly slow to move forward on the island. Furthermore, there is a lot of other Taonga (treasures) that this trust board has to deal with which take up time as well, and without proper resources to be able to address these areas, Matiu Island then lacks the proper cultural representation. Sadly this is many times a fact in democracies and with the bureaucracy, the wheels turn at a snail’s pace, and it is quite frustrating to deal with.

The carved gate to Matiu Island.

In a bit brighter spot from the lack of the Maori representation on the island, the environmental preservation and conservation programs seem to be doing quite well. The island’s had recent successes with several endangered species, including the Tuatara, a lizard native to only New Zealand, and the Kakariki, another endangered parakeet as well. Coming from what was once a barren island that was a quarantine station for Wellington and the surrounding area, now it is a verdant green island that is predator free and well protected. Though, as an environmentalist, the tree situation here was amusing and irritating; most trees aren’t from the area, or even New Zealand. I understand why this is though, back when the trees were planted, they put whatever they could get on the island, and are working on changing it now.

All in all, I was really interested in being able to explore and experience Matiu/Somes Island. I think that the island was a good look at how the Maori and Environment intersect, and the various issues relating to these themes. Also, I’m interested to see further into the government’s perspective in Wellington after getting a glimpse of it on the island. The trip out was a wonderful experience and I look forward to what Wellington will bring us in our knowledge.

–Nathan Vallejos

Sheep and Settler Colonialism

September 2, 2017

Today, we took the scenic route to Wellington aboard the Northern Express for a ten-hour train ride. We traveled through tunnels, in the shadow of a mountain, and beside small industrial towns; all the while, we ate, listened to music, talked, and most importantly, slept. The lengthy trip was used for rest, bonding, and reflection as we looked onto Aotearoa’s beautiful countryside.

A reoccurring feature of this landscape was the green grass used as pastures for grazing cows and sheep. Animal agriculture was so prominent throughout the ride that I was able to comprehend how vastly outnumbered humans are by sheep: 29.5 million to 4.6 million. It began to strike me as odd, how have these non-indigenous animals become such a staple in the country’s geography? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is quite layered involving both the Treaty of Waitangi and Western ideology.

Cows on a pasture next to the railroad tracks

Throughout this trip, we have learned the effects of having two separate founding national documents; the Māori’s version of the Treaty is a completely separate piece of work when compared to the British version, ultimately causing disparities which left the nation, specifically the Māori peoples, with intergenerational traumas. As the country grew off of the British version of the Treaty, the Pākehā’s (non-Māori) needs and values were cemented into the nation’s identity. The Māori peoples became marginalized as the partnership outlined in their version of the Treaty was not upheld. Due to this structure, the Crown was able to “buy” Aotearoa’s lands and level them in order to make space for agrarian traditions and the Pākehā.

The polarity between the grazing fields and natural, thick forests is stark and highlights the settler colonialism—immigrating to embody the space and spatial interaction of a location while imposing a foreign culture—etched into the environment. However, since Aotearoa and its entities were not empty, the Māori were left without the rights detailed in their Treaty. I was reminded of the Māori’s fight for sovereignty as I looked out onto lands that were mostly taken with unjust methods such as confiscation or purchasing land for less than it’s worth.

However, despite the seemingly negative situation, the Māori people have continued to adapt to their circumstances in order to persevere and thrive.  For example, Māori peoples have adopted animal agriculture to take part in this lucrative business. This idea of adaption was discussed while in Auckland at the Tikanga Rangahau Wananga conference we attended. We were able to hear from Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Māori scholar. She gave us a unique experience by giving her lecture through stories. This technique is quite reflective of the culture because “Skills such as weaving and carving, along with a rich tradition of song, dance, whakapapa, tribal histories and creation stories, were passed on through the generations” (6487).  In doing so, she personified her culture’s practices as she spoke of resistance and remaining firm in their identity. One story in particular stuck out in a poem-like tale called “You Can’t Erase Me” that retold a conversation between herself and another scholar. The exchange ended as her colleague stated, “You are here because of race, I’m here because of merit.” Her response silenced the audience and reaffirmed the intensity of Māori determination and unwillingness to be disregarded by settler colonialism: “No, you’re here because of race, I’m here because you can’t erase me.”

—Racquel

Steve Guardi

August 28, 2017

After completing an associates degree in my home state of Illinois at McHenry County College, I chose to serve for three year with Americorps. AmeriCorps is a civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging adults in public service work with a goal of “helping others and meeting critical needs in the community.” First as a tutor and mentor for eight grade students in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles with City Year, second as an environmental restoration crew member working alongside a diverse cohort from around the globe, and finally as a volunteer specialist with Earthcorps in Seattle where my team lead over 10,000 volunteers in Puget Sound parks and natural areas.

Here I can be seen leading a youth group at a special event where the 51st United States Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel serving in the administration of President Barack Obama, was digging in the dirt alongside us.

Currently, I am completing my first bachelors degree in Conservation Science and Resource Management and this study abroad course will allow me to see how environmental justice and Sovereignty is managed with indigenous cultures in another part of the world. The Maori people of New Zealand have produced environmentally charged and intimately mystical novels that had inspired me to visit their world for many years. So far, I cannot formulate words to express the deep gratitude and sense of awe as I participate in culturally immersive events both ancient and inspiring.

I hope to bring the knowledge I gain back to North America where I will be better equipped to build bridges between the US government and tribal nations, ultimately protecting human rights and preserving functional ecosystems and sacred ground. Following this experience, I will act as a UW Bothell Study Abroad Ambassador.

In my spare time I enjoy riding my bike, hiking, and playing video games. I am also a musician with roots in the Chicago-land underground music scene where basements, roller rinks, and youth centers were venues for expression, community building, and hearing loss in the sprawling rural/suburban McHenry County.