• collaboration;
  • flexibility;
  • indigenous;
  • Māori;
  • multi-methods;
  • relationship building


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Māori and indigenous geography and research practice
  5. The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration
  6. Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

In recent years, Māori and wider indigenous geographies have flourished. These include works by scholars identifying specific Māori or indigenous issues but less attention has been paid to the way such research is conducted. This paper engages with these developments and presents the practices and lessons learnt from one particular research collaboration. Relationship building, multiple methods, flexibility, communication choices and wider support are all noted as key elements in establishing a supportive and fruitful collaboration.

‘A lot of the times when we go out into the environment …  It's someone else's agenda. [But] this is just totally different.’ (Moeraki Stream Team member's reflection 2006)


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Māori and indigenous geography and research practice
  5. The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration
  6. Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Describing Māori consultation and resource management experiences, the quote above echoes the conditions faced by many iwi and local whānau/hapū/runanga groups in the current ‘consultation’ climate within New Zealand (see Table 1 for brief translation of all Māori terms). Consistent with obligations stemming from the Treaty of Waitangi and the Resource Management Act 1991, government, NGO and research personnel are often required to consult Māori; however, some academic and local Māori voices are increasingly criticising the intent and quality of such ‘consultation’. For instance, Coombes (2006, 2007) documents the ‘profound distrust’ and ‘official ambivalence’ that government parties have displayed towards Māori rights and environmental customs.

Table 1.  Glossary
Māori termMeaning
HapūSub-tribe, extended whānau
HuiMeeting, assembly
Kai moanaSea food
KaitiakitangaThe exercise of customary custodianship, in a manner that incorporates spiritual matters, by tangata whenua who hold Manawhenua status for particular area or resource
Kanohi ki te kanohiFace-to-face exchange
KaupapaMatter for discussion, agenda, subject
Mahinga kaiPlaces where food is produced or procured
ManawhenuaThose who exercise customary authority or rangatiratanga
MaraeCourtyard, meeting place for tangata whenua
ManaakitangaShow kindness to, look after, entertain
ManuhiriVisiting parties
PapatipuOriginal Māori land
TakiwāArea, region, district
TikangaLore, customary values and practices
WairuaLife principle, spirit
WhanaungatangaKinship, familial relationships
WharekaiDining hall

While this state of affairs will continue to absorb the time and energy of many whānau/hapū/runanga across the country, this paper engages with Māori and wider indigenous geographies by outlining one example of alternative practice and action. The paper notes the growth of Māori geographies and shows how these local cases resonate with a growing interest in indigenous politics and research practice, internationally. This interest includes wide-ranging and complementary debates in collaborative indigenous research, community-based resource management, and participatory research genres (e.g. Martin 2001; Momsen 2003; Hodge & Lester 2006; Kindon et al. 2007; Louis 2007). We have drawn on these practices, and particularly those pertaining to Māori research relations, in our case study of a specific health and environmental project, conducted within Ngai Tahu lands. Specifically, we report on the collaborative practices and methodological principles governing a research partnership between members of Te Runanga o Moeraki and geographers from the University of Otago. In taking the time to detail and reflect upon our process, we wish to offer one example of ‘responsible geographies’ (McClean et al. 1997) and a reflection for others working towards cross-cultural and multi-functional research in this country. Finally, we close by discussing the broader implications of this type of approach, noting both the way our study complements other Māori investigations and engages with wider geography debates.

Māori and indigenous geography and research practice

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Māori and indigenous geography and research practice
  5. The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration
  6. Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

The significance of Māori geographies (compared with earlier ‘geographies of Māori’) has been firmly acknowledged for two decades (Stokes 1987), and it is evident that the depth of research of these works has grown in recent years (e.g. McClean et al. 1997; Smith 2004; Coombes 2006; Murton 2006; Panelli & Tipa 2007). This development complements wider progress in indigenous geographies (Shaw et al. 2006; Johnson et al. 2007) where an enduring theme has involved both mixed-cultural and Māori-specific geographies of ‘home’, ‘heritage’ and ‘place’ (e.g. Kearns 1997; Hay 1998; Larsen 2006; Porter 2006; Panelli et al. 2008). In this genre, authors have noted how the Western, geographical notions of ‘site’, ‘territory’ and ‘place’ take on even more significance for indigenous groups who hold long and deeply interwoven relations between their people, environment and ancestors. In Māori cases, this occurs through both whakapapa and numerous cultural practices, e.g. mahinga kai (Smith 2004; Coombes 2006; Panelli et al. 2008). Hay (1998, p. 260) illustrates these ideas when reporting on Irakehu relations with land in the Akaroa/Banks Peninsula area:

For most Māori, a feeling for the land is central to their sense of place, particularly if that land is part of their ancestral tribal territory:  … It's part of their spirit … everything comes from the land. I think their warmth, their energy, everything comes from the land. That I understand perfectly well … I don't think the Māori people think of the land as a material thing … it's part of their soul [Māori resident interviewee]

Such accounts emphasise interconnection between social, biophysical, spiritual and cultural qualities of place. Similar significance has been recorded more recently, where notions of ‘place’ and ‘home’ are acknowledged in a dynamic sense that links a Māori group with its takiwā and the cycles and practices surrounding mahinga kai (Dacker 1990, 1994; Murton 2006). In this fashion, a Runanga representative of Awarua, discussing their marae at Bluff, highlighted these types of relationships as represented in the interior design of their wharekai:

It's all related to the environment. There is the kōwhaiwhai of the oyster. The lower part [of the interior] is devoted to food – birds and kai moana. There is the Titi [mutton birds] coming to land … The roof [includes] … the rising and setting of the sun … and the moon. These [diurnal and seasonal patterns] play a huge role for our food. (Panelli et al. 2008, p. 49)

Some of these writings have acknowledged the intimate relations between people and place. Others are important for raising the difficult politics that surround these connections, especially when tikanga and traditional agreements and customs are disregarded or overridden by regulatory practices and institutional racism. For instance, Coombes' (2006, p. 69) careful critique of the restoration of Lake Whakaki documents the institutional ambivalence and cultural insensitivities that meant ‘Euclidean geometries and cadastral assumptions of colonial administration’ overrode time-tested but delicate agreements between neighbouring hapū when:

fences … were negotiated faster than was culturally appropriate [and] … forced Māori to draw a straight line through nebulous cultural boundaries which were “always kept open for reasons of goodwill between us [Ngai Te Ipu] and [Ngati Hine] so we could share the lagoons and their resources” (Interview, Trustee, 12.2.2004, cited in Coombes 2007, p. 69)

This type of situation resonates with both other Māori – and wider indigenous – geographies that report the occurrence of cultural disregard and/or institutional racism in resource management and commercial developments or tourist consumptions (Richmond et al. 2005; Murton 2006; Carter and Hill 2007; Waitt et al. 2007). These Māori geographies also complement the growing indigenous literature that is conceptualising and debating the importance of different notions of ‘home’ and ‘place’ for the well-being and political self-determination of diverse indigenous groups (see for example Weir & Azary 2001; Castree 2004; Richmond et al. 2005; Larsen 2006). As Castree (2004) argues, indigenous groups can mobilise local and global connections afforded via indigenism to pursue ‘situational pragmatism’ associated with ‘place projects’ as they seek to redress past dispossessions and pursue diverse ‘property’ claims. And the work of Larsen (2006) and Porter (2006) provides clear examples where First Nation and Wadi Wadi peoples have engaged in contemporary negotiations to assert living connections and responsibilities with/for their territories and culture. This literature serves to remind us that indigeneity is not a static quality, fixed in the past. Rather, it involves senses of time, place and society–space relations that combine past–contemporary–future values, and that can challenge many dominant academic, governmental and resource management assumptions (Suchet 2002; Larsen 2006; Murton 2006; Coombes 2007).

In particular, authors are now demonstrating the critical importance of indigenous knowledges and practices in establishing culturally appropriate relations with – and ‘management of’– environments and resources. For instance, Palmer (2004a,b) and Suchet (2002) demonstrate the disjuncture between Aboriginal and Eurocentric Australian discourses of ‘country’, ‘wilderness’, conservation and resource management. In addition, Porter (2006) explains the limitations of heritage ‘site’ management that cannot fully appreciate the comprehensive (wider-than-‘site’) connections and cultural values that constitute Aboriginal relations and responsibilities towards ‘country’. She argues:

In Wadi Wadi terms, sites are positioned in a wider sense of connection between people, place, ancestors and law. Sites are not simply ‘dots on a map’, as conceptualised in archaeological and planning terms, but are intimately connected, together with other features, to form landscapes of power, meaning and significance. (Porter 2006, p. 366)

Although an encouraging range of scholars are now completing care-filled research programmes to record and disseminate such understandings to wider academic and policy audiences, the practice of such research remains an underdeveloped record in the literature. Understandably, the contrasts between Eurocentric and indigenous people–place relationships and politics are capturing most attention. Nevertheless, we believe it is important to also consider the research practices in these programmes. For just as there is no fixed, impermeable boundary between indigenous/non-indigenous1 cultures, so too, research practices frequently involve the meeting and melding of indigenous and other worlds, knowledge systems and funding regimes.

To date, most authors researching indigenous issues provide helpful methodological subsections or endnotes in their writings that outline the reflective methodologies they have adopted and adapted. These provide tantalising glimpses into the variety of protocols and techniques of observation, interview/conservations and ethnography employed. But fewer scholars provide comprehensive accounts of their epistemological and political navigations. Some recent work is responding to this gap in the literature, and stresses the need to engage with the politics as well as the methodology of both indigenous and academic worlds (see Geographical Research 2007). In New Zealand, Stokes (1987) foresaw this as she warned her geography colleagues to recognise their degrees, publications and formal, Eurocentric training more as a hindrance than a help when seeking to engage Māori research opportunities. And in a complementary fashion, Teariki (1992), Kearns (1997) and McClean et al. (1997) have argued the need to carefully consider the ethics, aims and processes by which research with Māori might be conceived and conducted. McClean et al. (1997) contend that a focus on responsibility is needed – a responsibility that embraces attention to appropriate spaces and rituals, and negotiations and ‘border crossings’ regarding knowledge production, cultures and research output. They close by advocating a form of aroha: ‘an untranslatable notion that entwines ideas of love, care, responsibility and preparedness to be accountable in a form of unity that does not force sameness’ (McClean et al. 1997). The scope of these undertakings needs to be comprehensive to forestall what Palmer (2006) and Coombes (2007) have noted as the ‘cunning of recognition’ and hollow ‘semblance of inclusion’ that may be performed in environmental governance when institutions and systems only ‘recognise’ indigenous knowledge or participation in ambivalent, limited or constraining ways.

‘Joint learning’, ‘cross-cultural research’ and ‘co-creation of knowledge’ are all attempts to more equitably share the framing and production of knowledge and research (McClean et al. 1997; Carter 2001; Howitt 2005; Hodge & Lester 2006). In such cases, the need to consider indigenous priorities, agendas and politics are crucial to devising the scope and practice of research, for as Hodge and Lester (2006) urge, the focus on indigenous community research priorities in research can minimise conventional inequalities and colonising norms in research relations. McClean, Berg and Roche's (1997) advocacy for co-creating responsible geographies has inspired our own work and this paper seeks to detail the processes and challenges surrounding a methodology that places indigenous priorities at the forefront of the investigation.

In this way, our study reflects the wider discussion of Kaupapa Māori research,2 whereby positive outcomes for Māori provided an underlying motivation for conducting research, as did a commitment to research activity that would recognise and uphold Tikanga Māori. Similar to other disciplinary adaptions of Kaupapa Māori (e.g. in education and health: Bishop 1996; Jones et al. 2006), our project has involved ‘parallel journeys’ (Hodge & Lester 2006) and encounters between indigenous and non-indigenous worlds and academic disciplines. In our case, Māori customs and responsibilities surrounding kaitiakitanga were placed alongside experiences of critical social and participatory geographies. The project thus constituted a self-conscious research collaboration that recognised the Māori and academic geography contexts of the research parties, and constructed formal and informal processes for upholding tikanga. The following section outlines these features before we turn to reflect on the challenges and lessons learnt.

The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Māori and indigenous geography and research practice
  5. The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration
  6. Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

The Cultural Health Index (CHI) for streams is a monitoring and assessment tool that allows whānau, hapū and iwi to monitor the cultural and biological health of a catchment or stream of their choosing (see Tipa & Teirney 2003, 2006Townsend et al. 2004). All aspects of the CHI are grounded in a cultural perspective of stream health. The CHI is being promoted as an effective cultural tool for stream monitoring, but it was hypothesised that there are other benefits for manawhenua when, as kaitiaki, they have the opportunity to undertake assessments of culturally significant waterways within their own takiwā. Te Runanga o Moeraki (TROM) joined with geographers from University of Otago to study these wider benefits, and focused upon the development of sensitive methods that enabled a range of benefits to be explored.3 It is necessary, however, to reflect on the evolution of this collaboration. The project was initiated from within Ngai Tahu, specifically by those who had been part of the CHI development.4 Ngai Tahu realised that they needed specialist social science skills, as the challenge was to develop sensitive yet robust data collection techniques that enabled many of the wider social and cultural benefits of applying the CHI to be documented. This need coincided with Panelli's interest in generating collaborative cross-cultural research and the two academic investigators' interests in ‘well-being’ (Panelli & Tipa 2007). Thus, the Māori and academic world's interests overlapped in a complementary set of opportunities where collaboration was desired.5

Relationship building and a statement of research collaboration

Having agreed to collaborate, the relationship between Māori and academic interests was formalized through negotiation of a research partnership between TROM and the Geography Department of the University of Otago.6 The resulting Statement of Research Collaboration provided a practical foundation for conducting relevant and appropriate research. The statement recorded the background to TROM's involvement with the CHI; the general purpose of this project; a clear process for collection, storage, and sharing of data and skills among the collaborating parties; a process for the dissemination of research outputs; and a clause that determined participation by TROM members in the research.7 Collaborative endeavours are human-resource intensive (see Campbell 1996; Huxham 1996; Berkes & Folke 1998). Consequently, to ensure continuity of members participating, TROM mandated a group of its members – the Moeraki Stream Team. This Team took up the responsibility for fulfilling TROM's commitments as a research partner.

The Statement of Research Collaboration could be seen as a written text from a Eurocentric academic world; however, it was the product of numerous face-to-face exchanges in hui, TROM runanga meetings, and university-based meetings. Moreover, the written text (signed first by TROM and then by Department of Geography staff) represented the gravity with which the parties wished to enter into comprehensive research relationship, and it guided all aspects of the project. This was a significant resource for all parties, but a formalised agreement only sets the parameters for working together. The dynamic of an effective relationship grows through the interaction of all the participants. Hui and hīkoi were instrumental to this interaction, and enabled us to nurture the relationship through ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’. It also meant that key cultural foundations – manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga, tikanga – were contextualized for researchers, and thus became the values underpinning this research.

A relationship of respectful togetherness developed independent of, but complementary to, the specific tasks of the research. For Māori participants, this togetherness of different parties complemented core experiences of interaction and manaakitanga between manawhenua and manuhiri, while for Panelli it formed an active learning experience of what Nancy (2000) theorises as ‘co-existence’ and ‘being-with’.8

Framing the research and enacting the collaborative relationship

Following conventional research practices, this study was partly contextualised by a review of literature which informed the geographers' perspectives on the study (reference withheld for anonymity). But this academic exercise formed only one framing of the study. The equally important traditions of kanohi ki te kanohi and kaitiakitanga meant that three hīkoi formed core events and encounters where the research relationship was enacted as each trip was designed, conducted and reflected upon. Three hīkoi were undertaken.9 Each one typically involved the research team being together for 2–3 days, and visiting a selection of sites. The principal purpose of the first hīkoi was whanaungatanga. This hīkoi also represented an opportunity to reflect on the experiences of those previously engaged in CHI assessments and helped clarify the aspirations of Moeraki Stream Team members with respect to wider freshwater management. It also gave some early insights into the appropriateness of possible data collection techniques.

Exploring research methods

Once the research was ready to progress beyond relationship building, a second hīkoi was planned, the primary purpose of which was the trialling of data collection techniques. The destination for this second hīkoi also served a second, substantive purpose (regarding ‘well-being’) as the team had previously expressed a desire to reconnect with traditional lands. The team identified reserve lands that some members are tied to through whakapapa yet had never visited. The hīkoi involved staying at a tribally owned property and travelling downriver by boat to the previously unvisited reserve lands.10

This hīkoi trialled several research methods with the intention that a subsequent hīkoi would enable the full process to be implemented on a waterway within the Moeraki takiwā prioritised for attention by Moeraki Stream Team members. First, pre-hīkoi telephone interviews enabled the collation of expectations and thoughts held by members of the Stream Team. Each participant was called and answered a series of questions. This activity allowed the project to acknowledge that cultural health (and experience of CHI tasks) is always context specific. Thus, while a cumulative record of pleasurable anticipation was collated, it was also significant to register that wider issues and commitments also intersected with the CHI experience to affect individual and team well-being.

The second set of methods involved the collection of ‘field’ data during hīkoi. This included adding a series of questions to the existing CHI assessment form, as well as other forms of discussion and data recording. In particular, and as with the established CHI technique (see Tipa & Teirney 2003, 2006), each member of the Stream Team completed an assessment form at each site. In this study, the additional questions facilitated the collection of new data (about experiences at the site, feelings having visited the site, sources of knowledge about the site and likelihood of future visits to the site). Some of the questions were not effectively completed and the investigators became sensitive to the limitations of adding further written requirements to the CHI tool. In keeping with oral traditions, this project found that the site-specific cultural health and well-being data were best gathered when the team shared in discussion and reflection at individual sites, and at the close of each part of the hīkoi (in effect implementing morning, afternoon and evening plenary and debrief sessions). Audio and video recordings of hui and hīkoi were also generated and kept, at the request of Stream Team members. And these aural and visual records complement the record of the physical condition of sites assessed. Hīkoi were also valuable because they afforded opportunities for the sharing of known histories, personal experiences and results of previous visits to the sites. They also supported the circulation of individual reflections on the condition of the waterways and the identification and discussion of further actions that could be prioritised.

The final method involved telephone interviews at the conclusion of each hīkoi. Each participant was individually contacted, and team reflections and recommendations were collated and shared among the team. This method is recommended for future studies. As with pre-hīkoi contact, it enabled the acknowledgement and collation of wider conditions affecting the participants' reflections and actions following their research experiences. The significance of whānau and kaitiakitanga experiences as both collective and individually differentiated is a core result for dissemination in other output from this study.

The second hīkoi served its purpose in terms of trialling research methods. Consequently, the decision was made to undertake the third hīkoi within the takiwā of Moeraki, because as Team members observed –

It's difficult [on a hīkoi] out of our takiwā

Some people had an issue about that

[But, in contrast] It is lovely to go in your own areas, to refresh your memory, and to hear the comments of everyone else too

Integrating methods and experiences within the takiwā

The third hīkoi focused on Trotters Creek, a small catchment of approximately 32 km2 (Otago Regional Council 2006) lying within the team's takiwā. This waterway is the closest stream of good quality water to the Moeraki marae. For this hīkoi, the team was able to base itself at its papatipu marae, Uenuku. The team implemented the full range of data collection methods already trialled. But the kaupapa for this hui was more complex. Both research methods and the possible actions for future runanga environmental business were important. The team started with a workshop session at the marae to discuss different conceptualisations of well-being. This was followed by a reflective session where the team discussed the practical organisation of the fieldwork component of our CHI assessments. Although manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and tikanga set the foundation for interacting safely and respectfully as a group, the team chose to implement a formal health and safety protocol.11 Finally, before leaving the marae, the workshop concluded with a discussion of the significance of Trotters Creek for respective team members. This involved sharing stories and personal experiences and noting the intersecting historic and contemporary, social, environmental, political and cultural significance of the waterway in aural and written forms. Much of this detail was recorded on an aerial photograph of the catchment. Then, the team visited seven sites in the catchment – from the headwaters to the river mouth. Some of the importance of this experience is reflected in the following members' observations:

[The trip was important] to have the opportunity to walk the landscape of home again – and just being in a whānau head space.

A lot of the times when we go out into the environment … it's buying into DoC [or] Regional Council [or] Fish and Game [or] LINZ … It's someone else's agenda. [But] this is just totally different … [it's] our system.

For one team member, it was their first visit to Trotters Catchment, for others it meant reconnecting after an absence of decades, while one team member was a regular visitor and user of the catchment who enjoyed sharing sites she valued with whānau.

The range of methods described above was utilised to collect data during the course of the hīkoi. These methods complement standard values and practices in various traditions of indigenous, participatory and action research (Hay 2000; Parkes & Panelli 2001; Kindon 2003; Howitt 2005; Hodge & Lester 2006; Louis 2007). However, the specific nature of their implementation was critically shaped by the collaborative partnership established, and the particularities of the takiwā and whānau involved. We trust these methods, combined with context specificity, can form an effective model for other teams to use when framing their own environmentally and culturally specific kaupapa.

Flexible and prioritised communication

Throughout our project, communication and accommodation of the diverse interests of whānau members was a necessity. Varied communications (fax, email and phone calls) were used with the Stream Team to co-design appropriate ways to document and analyse the social and cultural health benefits of participating in CHI processes. Moreover, in keeping with the fully collaborative nature of the research partnership, the team needed to function in both ‘Māori’ and ‘academic’ timescales and contexts. In practice, the academic parties needed to recognise that team members had to reprioritise other whānau, hapū or runanga business ahead of project communications at certain times. Likewise, those outside the university setting came to understand that particular teaching or other academic commitments sometimes constrained the speed of focus on project communications that were not ideal. Finally, in keeping with whanaungatanga and the principles of our Statement of Research Collaboration, diverse forms of reporting were agreed at the conclusion of the project. The team chose a variety of communication methods that could meet both the partnership expectations with TROM, and the wider goal of circulating methodological learning to relevant stakeholders. Poster and brochure production was undertaken for Māori uses prior to reporting to our funder and undertaking article writing. During this process, academic article writing took last priority, and it is only now that co-authoring for academic arenas is occurring.

Cumulatively, the cultural health project has been a formal and practical collaboration. As an attempt at the respectful co-production of knowledge, the project focused on the importance of relationship building and enactment through written formalities, and shared design, hīkoi and writing activities. The construction and trialling of multiple methods for individual and collective data was important. But equally, the need to be flexible and careful in using and prioritising communication methods was highlighted.

Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Māori and indigenous geography and research practice
  5. The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration
  6. Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

By reflecting on the experiences of the collaboration with the Moeraki Stream Team, we are able to consider the implications of the lessons learned for wider audiences. We highlight three considerations. First, the research emphasised the constant learning and knowledge exchange that is experienced by different Stream Team members (from kaumatua through to first-time trainees) interacting with whānau in environmental settings, particularly in environments of cultural significance. Future projects should consider the breadth of knowledge levels and learning interests within any team and discuss ways team members might best gather new knowledge (in our case this ranged from learning through dialogue, sharing maps and written texts, considering and adapting health and safety protocols, gathering experiential materials (photos, video, sound files) and actively participating in physical activities and cultural practices) ). Different members noted:

It's a real learning thing for me.

It's good to learn the whakapapa, to learn what's happened to the land.

There is change during the trip too and knowledge accumulates through the trip. I can say more now at Site 3 than Site 1 because of that knowledge that's been shared over the trip.

We learnt some health and safety lessons today.

As a team we're sharing tikanga, research protocols, video, sound and photography skills, and the writing is still to come.

Knowledge exchange was a continual two-way process. Māori and academic worlds overlapped and sometimes jostled against each other as the team identified and acted upon design, field and reporting priorities (as noted above). The Stream Team gained specific archival material, and a variety of research skills from both academic investigators, while manaakitanga provided Panelli with unique learning opportunities in place-specific histories and cultural practices. Together, these experiences illustrate an example of Louis's (2007, p. 135) demand that ‘sharing knowledge has to go both ways’. Moreover, Larsen (2006) and Briggs and Sharp (2004) show that indigenous knowledge is not a static, historic resource, but a diverse set of meanings and practices that will continue to inform and adapt to contemporary (research and other) opportunities and future aspirations. Such models of culture and knowledge enable indigenous groups to engage both traditional lore and new learning for contemporary conditions and goals –‘bringing the past into their own futures’ (Larsen 2006, p. 320).

Second, our project was challenged by many of the usual issues associated with Māori research, including the need for team members to balance multiple whānau, runanga and iwi responsibilities. This shaped our acknowledgement of priorities and time. These wider commitments saw some team members assuming political roles aligned more to advocacy and activism, and this contrasted with the whanaungatanga and supportive environs being encouraged by our project. Yet these multiple (and contrasting) roles reflect the day-to-day reality for many team members. Consequently, scheduling meetings was always a challenge, and this planning was interrupted and frequently rearranged because of urgent commitments or unplanned events. Even more significantly, our project needed to acknowledge and work with issues of health, well-being and death.12 Our commitment to whanaungatanga meant that instead of having members feeling they should withdraw from the project because of competing needs, we chose to take the time to let them reprioritise the needs of their whānau and remain as part of the team, wherever practical. The team grew as a result of these lived and shared experiences. What clearly emerged, however, was the need for flexibility in commitment prioritisation and time management. This had implications for both the research team and the funder.

Although funding agencies often impose stringent reporting time frames, during the course of the research this assumed secondary importance to the value of whanaungatanga. Hui and hīkoi were delayed when whānau commitments needed to be prioritised. As tikanga dictates, team members supported each other rather than prioritising compliance with research time frames. This flexibility and the support and compassion between members served to reinforce the growth and the commitment to the team and its project. Crucially, we were aided by the advocacy of University of Otago research managers (as institutional administrators) and the flexibility afforded us by the Health Research Council (as funder). In future, other funders and research managers might wish to consider these types of situations and explore the policies and actions that can be taken to support the well-being and needs of project participants as and when issues arise (see also Hodge & Lester 2006).

Third, although the pilot is complete, this study illustrates how indigenous geographies may aid wider agendas of indigenism and self-determination (Castree 2004; Louis 2007). As noted in other indigenous contexts, appropriate research can ‘cultivate our economic, social and governing systems’ (Crazy Bull 1997, p. 17). So too, collaborative research can support ‘situational pragmatism’ for indigenous agendas (Castree 2004). Moreover Māori/geography collaborations can enliven critiques of geography (Panelli 2008) while also meeting locally specific kaupapa. In the case of this project, a number of new initiatives have occurred. Having identified several concerns on the Trotters Creek hīkoi, a research proposal, investigating biosecurity issues, specifically the impact of invasive weeds on the catchment and neighbouring coastal environment of Moeraki peninsula, has secured funding from the Foundation for Research Science and Technology (in October 2006). In addition, members of the Stream Team have used their increasing skills to participate in many forums, including presentation and networking at international scales.13 As Castree (2004) records, indigenous agendas need not be exclusive or fixed as regressively local. Rather translocal networks and institutions can be harnessed and informed. Finally, TROM has mandated the Stream Team to pursue improvements in stream health. This is a major growth in agendas because the opportunity to progress beyond stream monitoring, or be participants in ‘consultation’ generated by external organizations, will enable the team to effect immediate and future change on Māori terms, as members conclude:

It's made me feel a lot better. There's some down-to-earth things getting done and I can relate to that. The things we are doing [in the team] really does matter for the future generations … If we don't have good water, we're in big trouble.

We're actually doing something as opposed to talking about doing. We're actually doing it. Normally when we sit around and talk, we never get around to doing it.

It is actually our system. We've fed into it right from the word go, to create it.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Māori and indigenous geography and research practice
  5. The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration
  6. Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Funding for this work was provided by the Health Research Council (NZ), and we are grateful for support and consideration of our project needs provided by research managers both at the Health Research Council and the University of Otago. We also thank relevant members of Te Runanga o Moeraki and the Department of Geography for support in developing and signing the Statement of Research Collaboration, and appreciate the comments of anonymous referees in our development of this paper.

  • 1

    We recognise the problematising of indigenous/non-indigenous boundaries and note that cultures are dynamic phenomena, intersecting with past, current and future configurations of peoples, places and values. The Ngāi Tahu culture is a case in point: The Ngāi Tahu Claim Settlement Act acknowledges Waitaha, Ngāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu groupings within the iwi, and many members also hold cultural ties with other more recent groupings that have arrived in this country, including Scottish, Irish and English. See also; Anderson (1998) and Evison (1993).

  • 2

    ‘At the heart of kaupapa Māori research is the desire for research to be by Māori, for Māori, using Māori cultural perspectives’ (Walker et al. 2006, p. 342). This form of research reflects both specific Māori customs (tikanga) and expectations, and a resistance to the colonising and unequal processes inherent in much of the conventional Western research experienced by Māori (Metge 1986; Bishop 1996; Smith 1999).

  • 3

    The attention on research methods was also a focus of the funding that was secured for this study, since the Health Research Council Māori Seeding Grant was specifically designed to assist and seed wider research learning and study applications that might stem from the project. This paper, as a form of sharing methodological knowledges, is one example of widening the relevance of the project.

  • 4

    There were three stages to the CHI development: (i) identifying indicators that Māori use to assess stream health; (ii) developing the index; and (iii) validating the index for wider use. Te Runanga o Moeraki members had participated in all three stages.

  • 5

    This interconnection of different worlds is further illustrated by Tipa, who lives and operates continually in both academic and iwi worlds (Tipa & Teirney 2003; Townsend et al. 2004).

  • 6

    This partnership agreement sits under a broader Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Otago and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu (the tribal authority). Although the statement was an agreement between the Department and TROM, the two academic ‘Investigators’ were also signatories.

  • 7

    Members of the Moeraki Stream Team had been trained previously in how to apply the CHI, and at their request a clause was inserted into the statement that limited recruitment of other TROM members, who could only be added to the Stream Team (and consequently this research) after they completed a CHI training course. This, in effect, meant that the runanga explicitly recognised the need to balance the goals of this research with the need to protect the integrity of the CHI.

  • 8

    Panelli's experience as a non-Māori was partly framed by her wider engagement with Nancy's (2000) philosophy of ‘being singular plural’ whereby one might experience the state of ‘being-with’ where two parties encounter ‘with’, not as a union or commonality, but as a ‘co-existence’ (see also Welch & Panelli 2007).

  • 9

    The first hīkoi was to the Upper Taieri (part of an inland area presenting a takiwā shared with two neighbouring papatipu runanga), the second hīkoi was to the Lower Taieri (within the takiwā of Te Runanga Otakou) and the third was to Trotters Creek (within the takiwā of Te Runanga o Moeraki).

  • 10

    The dimensions of well-being and the experiences of kaitiakitanga are beyond the scope of this paper; however, these matters are reported elsewhere in the Stream Team's poster and brochure format and in papers under preparation.

  • 11

    This consisted of discussion of risks and safety measures relevant to the research, and the individual completion of health forms listing medications, doctors and contact personnel in case of an emergency. A team member has subsequently assumed responsibility for health and safety matters.

  • 12

    Hui, hīkoi and data analysis all were affected in complex ways by a number of health issues that affected five of the whānau participating.

  • 13

    Four members of Te Runanga o Moeraki Stream Team (Myra Tipa, Rua McCallum, Mary Whitau and Gail Tipa) presented at the Canadian Aboriginal Science and Technology Society's conference in Calgary 2007. They also attended a workshop exploring Traditional Ecological Knowledge that was convened by the British Columbia Centre for Aquatic Sciences. The workshop was in Campbell River, Vancouver Island.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Māori and indigenous geography and research practice
  5. The cultural health project: Formal and practical collaboration
  6. Discussion: Reflections and implications for wider geographies
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  • Anderson A (1998). The Welcome of Strangers: An Ethnohistory of Southern Maori AD1650–1850. Otago University Press, Dunedin.
  • Berkes F, Folke C, eds (1998). Linking Social and Ecological Systems. Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Bishop R (1996). Collaborative Research Stories: Whakawhānaungatanga. Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.
  • Briggs J, Sharp J (2004). Indigenous knowledges and development: A postcolonial caution. Third World Quarterly 25, 66176.
  • Campbell T (1996). Collaborative management of Aboriginal resources. Information North 22, 16.
  • Carter JL (2001). Collaborative ecological resarch with indigenous Australians: The trepang project. Unpublished Doctor of Philosophy in Science thesis, Northern Territory University, Darwin.
  • Carter JL, Hill GJE (2007). Critiquing environmental management in indigenous Australia: Two case studies. Area 39, 4354.
  • Castree N (2004). Differential geographies: Place, indigenous rights and ‘local’ resources. Political Geography 23, 13367.
  • Coombes B (2006). Defending community? Indigeneity, self-determination and institutional ambivalence in the restoration of Lake Whakaki. Geoforum 38, 6072.
  • Coombes B (2007). Postcolonial conservation and kiekie harvests at Morere New Zealand – abstracting indigenous knowledge from indigenous polities. Geographical Research 45, 18693.
  • Crazy Bull C (1997). A native conversation about research and scholarship. Tribal College: Journal of American Indian Higher Education 9, 1623.
  • Dacker B (1990). The People of the Place: Mahika Kai. New Zealand Commission, Wellington.
  • Dacker B (1994). Te Mamae me te Aroha, The Pain and the Love: A History of Kai Tahu Whanui, Otago, 1844–1994. University of Otago Press and Dunedin City Council, Dunedin.
  • Evison HC (1993). Te Waipounamo: The Greenstone Island. Aoraki Press, Wellington.
  • Geographical Research (2007). Special Issue: Indigenous Peoples' Knowledges and Rights. Geographical Research 45 (2).
  • Hay I, ed. (2000). Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Hay R (1998). A rooted sense of place in cross-cultural perspective. Canadian Geographer 42, 24566.
  • Hodge P, Lester J (2006). Indigenous research: Whose priority? Journeys and possibilities of cross-cultural research in geography. Geographical Research 44, 4151.
  • Howitt R (2005). The importance of process in social impact assessment: Ethics, methods and process for cross-cultural engagement. Ethics, Place and Environment 8, 20921.
  • Huxham C (1996). Creating Collaborative Advantage. Sage Publications, London.
  • Johnson J, Cant G, Howitt R, Peters E (2007). Guest editorial: Creating anti-colonial geographies: Embracing Indigenous people's knowledges and rights. Geographical Research 45, 11720.
  • Jones R, Crengle S, McCreanor T (2006). How tikanga guides and protects the research process: Insights from the Hauora Tāne Project. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand 29, 6077.
  • Kearns R (1997). Constructing (bi)cultural geographies: Research on, and with, people of the Hokianga district. New Zealand Geographer 53, 38.
  • Kindon S (2003). Participatory video in geographic research: A feminist practice of looking? Area 35, 14253.
  • Kindon S, Pain R, Kesby M (2007). Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods: Connecting People, Participation and Place. Routledge, London and New York.
  • Larsen SC (2006). The future's past: Politics of time and territory among Dakelh First Nations in British Columbia. Geografiska Annaler 88B, 31121.
  • Louis RP (2007). Can you hear us now? Voices from the margin: Using indigenous methodologies in geographic research. Geographical Research 45, 1309.
  • Martin K (2001). Making space for community resource management in fisheries. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 91, 12242.
  • McClean R, Berg LD, Roche MM (1997). Responsible geographies: Co-creating knowledge in Aotearoa. New Zealand Geographer 53, 915.
  • Metge J (1986). In and Out of Touch: Whakamaa in Cross Culture Contexts. Victoria University Press, Wellington.
  • Momsen JH (2003). Participatory development and indigenous communities in the Mexican Caribbean. In: PughJ and PotterRB, eds. Participatory Planning in the Caribbean: Lessons from Practice. Ashgate, Aldershot, pp. 15572.
  • Murton B (2006). ‘Toheroa Wars’: Cultural politics and everyday resistance on a northern New Zealand Beach. New Zealand Geographer 62, 2538.
  • Nancy J-L (2000). Being Singular Plural. Trans. R Richardson and A O'Bryne, Stanford University Press, Stanford.
  • Otago Regional Council (2006). Management Flows for Aquatic Ecosystems in Trotters Creek. Otago Regional Council, Dunedin.
  • Palmer L (2004a). Bushwalking in Kakadu: A study of cultural borderlands. Social and Cultural Geography 5, 10927.
  • Palmer L (2004b). Fishing lifestyles: ‘Territorians’, traditional owners and the management of recreational fishing in Kakadu National Park. Australian Geographical Studies 42, 4659.
  • Palmer L (2006). Nature, place and indigenous politics. Australian Geographer 371, 3343.
  • Panelli R (2008). Reorienting social geographies: home, place, and country – encounters with indigenous and more-than-White/Anglo geographies. Progress in Human Geography 32, 80111.
  • Panelli R, Tipa G (2007). Placing well-being: A Maori case study of cultural and environmental specificity. EcoHealth 4, 44560.
  • Panelli R, Allen D, Ellison B, Kelly A, James A, Tipa G (2008). Beyond Bluff oysters? Place identity and ethnicity in a peripheral coastal setting. Journal of Rural Studies 24, 4155.
  • Parkes M, Panelli R (2001). Integrating catchment ecosystems and community health: The value of Participatory Action Research. Ecosystem Health 7, 85106.
  • Porter L (2006). Rights or containment? The politics of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria. Australian Geographer 37, 35574.
  • Richmond C, Elliott SJ, Matthews R, Elliott B (2005). The political ecology of health: Perceptions of environment, economy, health and well-being among ‘Namgis First Nation’. Health and Place 11, 34965.
  • Shaw WS, Herman RDK, Dobbs GR (2006). Encountering indigeneity: Re-imagining and decolonizing geography. Geografiska Annaler 88B, 26776.
  • Smith A (2004). A Maori sense of place? Taranaki waiata tangi and feelings for place. New Zealand Geographer 60, 1217.
  • Smith LT (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. University of Otago Press, Dunedin.
  • Stokes E (1987). Māori geography or geography of Māoris. New Zealand Geographer 43, 11823.
  • Suchet S (2002). ‘Totally Wild’? Colonising discourses, indigenous knowledges and managing wildlife. Australian Geographer 33, 14157.
  • Teariki C (1992). Ethical issues in research from a Māori perspective. New Zealand Geographer 48, 8586.
  • Tipa G, Teirney L (2003). A Cultural Health Index for steams and waterways: Indicators for recognising and expressing cultural values. Technical Paper 75, Ministry for Environment, Wellington.
  • Tipa G, Teirney L (2006). Using the Cultural Health Index: How to assess the health of streams and waterways. ME711, Ministry for Environment, Wellington.
  • Townsend C, Tipa G, Teirney L, Niyogi D (2004). Development of a tool to facilitate participation of Maori in the management of stream and river health. Ecohealth 1, 18495.
  • Waitt G, Rigueroa R, McGee L (2007). Fissures in the rock: Rethinking pride and shame in the moral terrains of Uluru. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32, 24863.
  • Walker S, Eketone A, Gibbs A (2006). An exploration of kaupapa Maori research, its principles, processes and applications. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 9, 33144.
  • Weir DR, Azary I (2001). Quitovac Oasis: A sense of home place and the development of water resources. The Professional Geographer 53, 4555.
  • Welch R, Panelli R (2007). Questioning community as a collective antidote to fear: Jean-Luc Nancy's ‘singularity’ and ‘being singular plural’. Area 39, 34956.