Update: A hapū's quest to save their marae

By Te Ao with MOANA

This story originally screened on Native Affairs in November 2018.  Te Ao with Moana approached Mirumiru Marae for the latest on their efforts to cope with the effects of climate change. Today, Natasha Willison-Reardon, a member of the marae’s environment committee, told us:

"The update is that we are building a stronger case around our Takutai Moana claim. We are going to work on reviewing our environmental plan and develop stronger relationships with our councils. This will allow them to resource, but allow us to lead our own aspirations. This is the update for our whānau at our AGM this weekend." 

A link to the full-length Native Affairs story can be found at the bottom of this article.

The people of Mirumiru Marae on the West Coast of the North Island are facing a huge dilemma. Their marae is at risk of flooding and erosion due to rising river levels from climate change.

The only way to access the marae is by crossing the Marokopa Awa by barge. 

Heemi Kete has witnessed the environmental changes during his 60 years of steering the barge. He says in recent years, he's noticed the change in the flow of the water. 

"The design of the flow of the water now has changed a hell of a lot. But I guess the general rise of water, that’s worldwide and we just acknowledge that and work with nature the best we can.”

But it’s not just the marae that is of concern to the people. Their urupā, Wahamanga, is in close proximity to the kāuta.

Natasha Willison-Reardon, who is a part of the marae’s environment committee, says this has been the fundamental concern voiced by whānau at previous wānanga hapū.

“Whānau hearing stories about coastal erosion and the change in the tides and thinking if we have to move our marae, I can’t leave my baby that’s buried here, or you know, my tupuna, or my parents are buried there so there’s a lot of emotion with all of us that whakapapa to here.”

Willison-Reardon is leading research on behalf of the hapū, investigating why the marae is at risk and what they need to do to ensure their whenua and marae are protected.

“The first part of the research really was when we became aware that access, not just to our marae, but over the hill at Kiritehere, to our papakainga areas. The water, the tide marks were starting to encroach on the land banks. You’d be sitting there some days and there are waves that are rolling over our bridge at Kiritehere. We haven’t been able to carry out some of the traditional practices that we’ve always done over here because of the change and the climate and our tidal movements.”

In recent years, flooding has stopped the marae from holding tangihanga, whānau hui. Kete is concerned that it will also stop his marae from hosting the poukai - a century-old tradition where the Kīngitanga connects with marae throughout the North Island.

“I don’t wish for it to stop. The rising water levels is one thing. Looking to the future, that’ll determine whether that kaupapa goes on or not. But we don’t want to lose the poukai,” Kete says. 

In October 2018, the whānau of Mirumiru Marae came together to hear kōrero from NIWA Coastal Scientist Scott Stephens about the hazards caused by climate change.

Stephens says, “At Marokopa, we have a situation where we have a river beside the marae and the river can flood. And the river flows into the sea, so when the spring tides are high, those floods are likely to reach higher up and cause more flooding. In the future, as the sea level rises, that’s going to become increasingly frequent that flooding and it will reach higher and higher.”

The whānau is resolute in their quest to find a solution. They know that the threat is real and there’s ongoing kōrero about how to save their marae. 

“We’re going with what nature is doing and we’re adamant that we want to be prepared if there’s things going on that we want to know more, we want to be more aware,” Willison-Reardon adds.

Ngā pūmaharatanga: whānau recollections

Heeni Grant is the oldest kaumātua of Mirumiru Marae and holds extensive knowledge of the marae and the history of Marokopa. She describes what it’s like seeing the Marokopa awa during severe flooding and how the original Mirumiru Marae, that once stood at the river’s bend, was lost to the elements.

“We grew up in the river...we were half fish, half people kind of people.”

Tangiwai Christie is the younger sister of Heemi Kete. Like her brother, she grew up next to the marae in her kuia’s whare. She says she and her siblings were made to go to school despite the conditions of the awa.  

“We pretty much had to be almost dead not to go to school and there had to be big waves coming up the river for us not to go to school. And because we didn’t know any other way, it was a pretty normal way for us to go to school,” Christie says.

Working with nature: A coastal scientist’s perspective

NIWA coastal scientist Scott Stephens says the situation the whānau of Mirumiru Marae is facing is becoming more and more common in coastal areas of Aotearoa.

He says, “The main reason we are seeing more frequent flooding and erosion, is because the sea level has been rising and so the waves can run in at a slightly higher level, the tides run in at a slightly different level.”

“You can’t stop nature, but you can work with nature”

The people of Mirumiru Marae have sought advice from other environmentalists in the past and are well-informed of the situation.

Stephens says, "They have a pretty good picture on the hazards that their marae is facing, but getting a consensus on what to do about it is difficult and we find that that’s a common theme throughout the country and throughout the whole world. In fact, this is the big problem about what to do about climate change, what to do about rising sea levels."

He mihi:

Te Whānau o Mirumiru Marae

Scott Stephens, NIWA Coastal Scientist

Deep South National Science Challenge Supporting Decision Making in a Changing Climate: Tools and measures project

Resilience Science Challenge The Living Edge project

WATCH the full-length Native Affairs story here: