Wakatū: Maui.Tech case study

An iwi/Māori-led climate change case study, produced as part of the Maui.Tech project

Wakatū: Te Pae Tāwhiti

This video case study from the rohe of Te Tau Ihu shares insights about Wakatū Incorporation's commitment to addressing climate change and sustaining their land and culture through a holistic approach that combines indigenous knowledge, sustainability, and community well-being.

This video case study was produced as part of the Maui.Tech project. Read more about Maui.Tech.


  • Kerensa Johnston (Ngāti Tama, Ngāruahine, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Whāwhakia) – CEO, Wakatū Incorporation

Click to read transcript

Kerensa Johnson  00:03 
When we bring the depth of knowledge that we have to this challenge of the climate, it just opens up so many opportunities for us. I think for healing, but for also understanding at a really deep level, you know what it means to be in relationship with the land, and to exercise that value of kaitiakitanga. 

Trevor Moeke [Narrator]  00:35 
Established in 1977, Wakatū Incorporation was set up to manage taonga on behalf of the customary owners  from across the four iwi: Ngāti Rārua, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tama, and Ngāti Koata. Wakatū is primarily a business of land and sea. 

Kerensa Johnson  00:57 
When we think about the key impacts of climate change, in our rohe, we think primarily about two aspects. Of course, one is the impact on the whenua itself. So encompassing all of the ecosystem, including the land and the water. Just as important is the impact on community and our people.  

You know, the work that we've been focusing on, at least for the last ten years, is thinking hard about what what community means for us. What do resilient and strong communities look like, over time, and how do we build those.  

All of our mahi/work is underpinned by what we call Te Pae Tawhiti [a plan out to the distant horizon]. That's a 500 year strategic plan that our whanau created. That strategy, if you like, really sets the course for the next 500 years of our work. 

Te Pae Tawhiti provides a blueprint for Wakatū to to be able to create forward looking programs of work like the Whenua Ora and Tangata Ora sustainability strategies that focus on its commitment to address climate change. 

Right at the very heart of Wakatū is what we call manaaki. And really all of our activities exist and align to support our manaaki program of work. That's all of the development we do with our whanau. Whether it's in education or cultural development, it's all of the work we do in terms of our Whenua Ora, or sustainability program of work. It's everything from succession planning, to wellbeing programs for our whānau. So manaaki really is the heart of our organisation. 

Trevor Moeke  02:44 
There are three business parts, or Pou, that make up the incorporation. As well as being a business with a light footprint on the whenua, Wakatū are also looking to their forests to create innovative new products. 

Kerensa Johnson  02:59 
We're beginning a program of work of transitioning from conventional farming to what we're calling tikanga led regenerative. That's hugely exciting for us as an organization. A huge challenge. Because it may mean we're producing quite different products then we are now. We're transitioning our farms, so we've orchards and vineyards and we have marine farms. For the most part, they're being farmed conventionally. And then how do we begin the transition in a way that's going to be commercially and culturally successful over this 20 year timeframe? 

Trevor Moeke  03:32 
Māori excercising full rangatiratangata and kaitiakitanga over their land and resources is crucial, if whānau are to fulfill their ancestral obligation of being good kaitiaki, Kerensa says requires genuine Treaty partnership and investment from government. 

Kerensa Johnson  03:33 
We are firm believers that you have to have control of your resources in order to be good kaitiaki and, you know, exercise all of the responsibilities that come with that.  

Tou know, I think it's a dangerous perception that sometimes sits with government, this perception that Māori land is somehow public land, or land that might be available for, you know, their particular initiatives, whether it's around biodiversity or whatever it is. You know, Māori land is not public land, it's private land. There are still some really entrenched institutional beliefs about the purpose of Māori land, and who can use it and for what. 

Wakatū collaborates with other indigenous nations, particularly in the food and beverage sphere, to provide solutions from an indigenous perspective for communities preparing for climate change, which for many, is a very real imminent threat. 

In terms of indigenous climate leadership, we've been building towards what we're calling our Climatorium, which is a concept of bringing together indigenous communities from around the world. Education, research, science, business, into one think tank, for want of a better word, to then solve different problems that are happening in this space.  

There's a Climatorium established in Denmark in the northern hemisphere. And we've been doing a lot of work with those people in an attempt to establish a sort of sister organization here in Wakatū. And of course, from an indigenous perspective, key to that is our understanding of mauri. And understanding that that relationship that we have, that genetic understanding that we have, I believe we all have as indigenous people, whether we fully appreciate it or not, is really just there waiting to be ignited. 

Trevor Moeke  05:45 
Mātauranga Māori is the knowledge framework that sets the core values for Wakatū. It could offer an aspirational strategy toward wider community understanding. Connecting to their ancestral past. Kerensa says Wakatū continue to have an intimate understanding of the challenges particular to their rohē. They continue the legacy of kaitiakitanga bestowed by their tupuna. 

Kerensa Johnson  06:10 
For us, it's really about realizing the aspirations that our tupuna had when they imagined the settlement of Nelson. 

What we say that is, is that you know they would have pictured this world where certainly we were bicultural, in terms of the languages that we spoke. You know, if you look around our city, it wasn't a city like this – it was a city that was compatible with our environment. So you would see native bush and trees and māra [garden, cultivation], sitting with the best that Western design has to offer. For us, it's not creating new concepts or ideas, it's actually realising the dreams that they had and bringing that to fruition.