Maori Minister Address in Snowchange 2008

Please find below the comments made by Honorable Minister Tariana Turia, Co-Leader of The Maori Party in Snowchange 2008.

As we have travelled from across the country and across the world to Taranaki, I have been thinking about the beautiful and delicate mountain, Pihanga, who brought us together – from Te Kahui Maunga – the mountains of Ruapehu, Tongariro, Ngaruahoe, Tauhara  – to Matua Te Tapu, Maunga Taranaki. All of the mountains wanted Pihanga for their own but particularly Tongariro and Taranaki. All of the elements of the earth came together in pursuit of love – ash and lava erupted, the thunder struck, the lightning flashed, as Tongariro and Taranaki fought.

Defeated in love, Taranaki returned home, guided all the journey home by Rauhotu o Tapairu – Te Toka a Rauhotu. A rock of great mana led him home, guiding his return to the coast, to where he settled by the beautiful ranges of Pouakai – from which would come the off-spring of wind and rain, of rocks and rivers, of land.

This story – of love and passion and energy – is one which no doubt resonates with other stories from our indigenous brothers and sisters across the world. It is a story which will vary according to the tribal origins of the storyteller – but a story, nevertheless that we share. It is a story in which we, as guardians of the earth, respect and reflect the awe with which we consider the climate, Mother Earth, and the relationship between all of the elements. It is a story of falling in love.

Today Te Huirangi Waikerepuru invites us to fall in love again. This time, to fall in love with our natural knowledge, our tribal traditions, our customary rituals. From where I come, we have a saying, ko au te awa, ko te awa, ko au; I am the river and the river is me. In essence, it means we are intimately connected with our environment, our natural world around us. It is this intimate connection between Ranginui, our sky father, and Papatuanuku, our earth Mother, that brings us together from nga hau e wha – the four corners of the world.

And so we celebrate those who grace Aotearoa with their distinguished presence including:

  • The Saami people of Finland;
  • The Inuits of Nunavut;
  • the people of Gwitchin;
  • the indigenous people of Siberia;
  • the people of Alaska; and
  • the Northern Forum Academy of Russia

We embrace your knowledge, your skills and expertise as indigenous leaders, and we welcome the opportunity to work together in the pursuit of long-term solutions.

We recall too, that many of the practices of desecration and despoliation of the land, are practices brought to us during a period when our lands were occupied by others.

Our people had a whakatauaki to warn us of the impact
Ko te haeremai he ngarara; Ko ona niho, he köura
Ko tona kai he whenua

There a great beast coming, who has teeth of gold, a hunger for land.
The impacts of that time remain with us.

And now we clear the land, we build up our dairying stock, we dirty the rivers with agricultural pollution, and we do it all in the name of progress, a pathway to capitalism.

The impact of colonisation was not only about the loss of land. It also brought with it a desecration of our belief systems to the extent that we no longer follow the guidelines our ancestors left for us, to invest in the health and wellbeing of the planet.

That is why it is time for change.


Snowchange 2008 is intended to provide a base for us to share strategies, to seek solutions to the ecological and environmental catastrophe caused by global warming.

That’s a pretty big mission.

But today, on International Polar Day, I believe we can take on the world. And indeed the focus for this year stretches our world out above the polar region to far off galaxies in which we observe the atmospheric sciences, astronomy and polar observations from space.

It is a chance to remind us that the atmosphere over ice and snow laden areas, is unique, and provides a vital cooling process for our global climate system.

It is all a matter of balance.

The balance between kawa, te kauwae runga; and tikanga, te kauwae raro. Our people of Whanganui, believe our mauriora, our total wellbeing resides in keeping the balance between te kauwae-runga – celestial knowledge; and te kauwae-raro – terrestrial knowledge.

It’s a simple equation, a triangle if you like.

Kawa is atua-determined – the principles left to us by our tupuna. Whereas tikanga is people-determined – the human realm. And inbetween the atua and the tangata; our gods and our people; is taiao – our environment.

It used to be thought that you could never breach kawa – the principles of the life-force established by our gods.

You may know the story of how Ranginui and Papatuanuku were separated by one of their sons, Tane-te-toko-o-te rangi, literally, Tane the prop of the heavens.

Well now in 2008, Tane the god of the great forests, the father of the mighty kauri and totara trees, is endangering the life of his parents, through the destruction of our forests.

Deforestation is the hand of man – and woman – breaching kawa without even a second thought.

It all adds up.  The costs of disturbing our natural equilibrium are phenomenal.

In the lands where I am from, the costs of the floods that ravaged the lower North Island in 2004 rose to over $300 million. We had evacuations of thousands of people from flooded lands; some of our farms lost over thirty percent of their grazing land, and landslips grossly affected land areas of up to 20,000 hectares.

They were the ‘here and now’ costs, of simply living through a natural disaster.

And we know there is more, much more, of the physical impacts expected in the days to come.

The costs of droughts which expand from summer into autumn and spring. The effects of very heavy rainfall, and greater temperature increases. The risks of frosts are anticipated to decrease while the impact of very high temperatures rise.  We will face stronger and more frequent westerly winds, and heightened risk of forest fires.

So how, and what, in the genealogy of earth and sky, the gods and their human descendants, will prepare us to adapt to a changing climate? How do we reduce agricultural emissions, plant more forests to act as carbon sinks, improve our water quality, manage the risks of floods and erosion, create sustainable land management outcomes?

Our mountains, our waters, our rivers, our oceans have been mutilated and manipulated by the human hand for too long.

We must become tangata tiaki; guardians of the earth.

Tangata tiaki who will take the time to restore our practices from ‘i nga wa o mua’ - the past informing the present.

They will make the efforts to fall in love with our knowledge, to restore to ourselves, the practices that will correct the ecological balance. I fall in love with my mokopuna when they walk by me, picking up rubbish without a second thought – doing it, to ensure their mother, Papatuanuku, is cared for and cherished as she should be.

We need to respect the balance between those things which are wairua – of the spirit – and those practices we can do to protect the environment, to stem the tide.

We need to learn when is the right time to plant potatoes. Getting close to those who are our acknowledged wise men and women – people like Huirangi Waikerepuru – will help us to understand the changes we need to make, to rectify the wrong.

We have to become hungry for knowledge, eager to learn.

We must ask – why did our tupuna plant their pumpkins in mounds or their kumara in circles? The solutions are often so simple – planting in mounds fights against the frost which settles in the ditches. The closer the vegetables were planted, the stronger their growth – like a family.

These are but a few of the stories that Snowchange is going to give life to.

These few days in Snowchange 2008 are a vital footprint into the future. The planning and the strategising you will do together around climate and ecological changes is going to be an important foundation for us all.

The brave steps forward you take here will have immediate implications for indigenous peoples, and particularly the indigenous peoples in the Arctic Circle.

I congratulate Te Hurihanga Haupapa Charitable Trust and the key partners for having the vision to make this happen.

Let us all lead onwards from Snowchange in the pursuit of a climate change research agenda for indigenous peoples, which encourages us all, as tangata tiaki, to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the wellbeing and future good health of the environment.


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