Water and Māori engagement top of list for first wahine regional chair

By Tumamao Harawira

A Māori woman will sit as the head of the Northland Regional Council for the first time.

The council has chosen Tui Shortland as chair for the next three years, after she was nominated by councillors Rick Stolwerk and Peter-Lucas Jones.

Shortland, of Ngāti Hine descent, has long advocated for environmental issues. She says she was born into conservation.

"When I was born, my father named me Tui because the tui was going extinct, and so that put me on this path, and I ended up heavily involved in traditional knowledge."

She was unaware of her newfound fame as the first Māori woman chair of the Northland Regional Council. 

"I didn't know because I'm not tracking it really. It was a journalist who had asked me was I the first and I'm, 'I don't know, can someone check?'"

Shortland goes from international advocate to local leader in Northland.

From UN to council

Shortland has held numerous positions as an advocate for the environment. She was on the United Nations' biodiversity and climate change policy development team, including writing part of the introduction to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)'s 2015 Paris Agreement. Now, she has taken over the reins at the council level.

"I've been engaging with the council for 20 years. I've been on the Māori and council committees and more recently, I was the author of Te Mana me te Mauri o te Wai o Te Taitokerau. So that was what motivated me to run."

Te Mana me te Mauri o te Wai o Te Taitokerau was a report that delved into water issues in the North, from rivers to lakes and out to the sea. Shortland says the time has come for Māori to sit at the decision-making table in regard to water issues.

New approach

"It's a whole new way of looking at water and managing water, and it's an opportunity for us to engage and involve tangata whenua in that management, decision-making, and monitoring. "

Flooding and roading are major issues in Northland. Just this year the region was inundated with rain, which caused tremendous damage. Shortland says while the regional council has limited responsibility, it still has a part to play.

"My plan is to work across the region, and all of our councils, to address these transportation and infrastructure issues."