The Launch of Waka Whenua

Launch of Waka Whenua
Motueka High School; Te Whare Taikura o Te Maatu

Sunday 20th November 2016; 7-9pm

Helen Leahy, Pouarahi  /

Chief Executive of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu


Over 100,000 distinct landslides have been registered across New Zealand.  The central port and statistical centre in Wellington was rendered dysfunctional; Lambton Quay came to a standstill; rail-links and interisland ferries were disrupted.


GNS Science has released information that the earthquake shifted land at Cape Campbell (the northeast tip of the South Island) to the northeast by more than two metres – making it two metres closer to the North Island than it was before.  It also shifted upwards by almost one metre.


It has indeed been a seismic shift in every sense of the word.


Yet while our cities and towns have been pummelled by torrential floods, gale force winds, and ever-present aftershocks, life has continued on for the people who populate these places ravaged by nature.


It has been a remarkable act of manaaki that well over eight thousand people have been fed at Takahanga Marae in Kaikōura; that schools have turned the disaster into an opportunity to learn – to hold bakeathons, to write letters, to create care packages.


Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has flown over thirty flights into and out of Kaikōura; Ngāti Apa ki te Rā To; Rangitane ki Wairau; and Ngāti Rarua have found a home base with Civil Defence with in Blenheim; and Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu has redeployed our entire team, and some of our Whānau Ora Navigators from across New Zealand to lend a helping hand; to be with the people.


How then do the events of last week; the repercussions leading from Ruamoko stirring, have relevance to why we are here today?


And why here – at Motueka High?


Just over three months ago, this kura opened Te Whare Taikura o Te Maatu with a dawn blessing and pōwhiri.


At the opening Ngāti Rārua Ātiawa Iwi Trust member and former Motueka High School student Miriana Stephens told you all of the significance of this land

“It’s built on land rich in Māori history, our history, and will stand as a reminder of the courage and determination of our families to take a stand and ensure the land was returned to us…” –


The name of the whare is especially significant. As you know Te Maatu is the garden and forest of the Ngāti Rārua and Te Atiawa people as manawhenua ki Motueka.


It is absolutely fitting that we are here, in a place which cultivates hope; a foundation to plant, to grow, to sow and thrive.    A place inspired by a unique group of descendants from two iwi who whakapapa back to one or more of the 94 Ngāti Rārua and fifteen Te Ātiawa tupuna.

These ancestors have a unique and distinctive connection to the land from whence all their descendants derive their origin. Tangata whenua – literally the people of the land.


Mana whenua – the principle that defines Māori by the land occupied by right of ancestral claim. It defines tūrangawaewae and ūkaipō, the places where you belong, where you count, and where you can contribute. Manawhenua is essential for Māori well-being.



And now waka whenua.


Waka Whenua – at its very heart  - is about identity, belonging, whakapapa and the absolute value of the human life.


It epitomizes the saying “Toitū he kāinga, whatu ngarongaro he tangata”.

The permanence of the land, even while it’s trembling, the places of our origin, will always provide a vital marker in identity, in history, in being.


In this respect the Ipu Whenua – the product we are launching today – a fully biodegradable, eco-friendly, leak-proof, purposeful container to host the placenta – the whenua tapu – is about much more than a product.  


It is about the process of transmitting knowledge as a key to wellbeing.


It is about embracing and celebrating the birth of every new child.


The waka provides a memory box to treasure the moment of birth, as well as being a beautiful art piece to cherish the growth of whānau.


Whānau Ora is essentially about placing whānau at the centre of decision-making.   It invites innovation; it is locally driven, intergenerational in its scope, collective in its approach.


Across Te Waipounamu we have 81 different interpretations of what Whānau Ora looks like in practice.  It is widely diverse; reliant on building whānau capability to whānau to be self-managing; from a children’s book (Reo Pēpi) to a cookery school to camps in the Catlins to language acquisition and so on.


There is one thing that we ask of all our entities – and that is to be grounded in strengths; and focus on outcomes.   Those outcomes are that whānau will be:

  • Self-managing

  • Living healthy lifestyles

  • Participating fully in society

  • Confidently participating in te ao Māori

  • Economically secure

  • Cohesive, resilient and nurturing

  • Responsible guardians of the living and natural environments.


Waka Whenua not only meets these outcomes – everything about it is whānau driven.


I want to really mihi to the wonderful team that has brought Waka Whenua to Te Tau Ihu.


Julie is the founder, owner, operator of Waka Whenua Ltd and is a co-director with her sister Tracey.


Julie and Mangisi's son Paihia is a powerful part of the inspiration and the reason for this initiative; Mangisi has shared his ideas, skills and practical support to Waka Whenua

Isaac is a talented emerging artist

Donna a community champion in every sense

Cindie shares her passion and life mission bringing the rights of children to have a safe and happy life to the forefront of our lives.


Collectively, they are entrepreneurs, artists, designers and most of all whānau, wanting a better future for their mokopuna.


This hotbed of innovation and inspiration has reached out and embraced a multitude of magicians into the web of meaning that has produced these beautiful waka.   There have been so many people who have been part of this venture:


  • Te Pūtahitanga enterprise coach Matt James and before him Te Atarua Hibbs


  • Accountant Lance Edmonds


  • Māui Studios – graphic designers and artists who created the logo;


  • David Moodie – design engineer, Makegood design;


  • Working with Mark Maguire from the Callaghan Innovation who awarded them a getting started grant


  • Tū Maia – who Te Pūtahitanga commissioned to run what we call an ‘accelerator programme’: Te Papori Whakatere – which Julie has literally just returned from in Christchurch.


  • They have made connections with the Chamber of Commerce, Innovate Nelson, Māori Women’s Development Inc;


  • Sister Kathy has shared her graphic design skills and professional editing;


  • And of course the fundamental wisdom that is found in these lands, in Te Āwhina Marae, in Onetahua, Whakatū - with the people of the land, mana whenua.



And so I want to finish where I began – with an acknowledgment of the vital umbilical cord that connects tangata whenua to Papatūānuku; that life-force which restores us to all that we are.


Waka whenua invites us to have the conversation: where does baby come from?  What are his roots?  What are the stories she will inherit?  The songs?  The memories?


In planting the whenua in their tribal home whānau are saying this matters.   This place, where our grandparents were born, where our tupuna were laid to rest, counts.  It is who we are.


Identity matters – knowing where we belong.   It is important to us all – to midwives, lead maternity carers, historians, writers, researchers, kuia, koroua, mokopuna, whānau.   As they say home is where the heart is or in this case the whenua.


Over this last week, as the land has been ripped apart, the most primal response from across Aotearoa has been to return to the roots from whence we come.


Whānau have been helicoptered home; they have connected instantly by facebook, instagram, snapchat – letting mothers, aunties, cousins, koro know they are all well.


We have clung to the images through social media, to find our patch of the world, to retrace the tribal footprint which gave us life.


And it takes us back to that message:  “he tangata tau ana ki te whenua, tū ana ki te ao.


The people who are settled in the land stand strong in the world.


Today, with the launch of Waka Whenua, we look to the perfectly named mokopuna, Hawaiiki, and we think about this amazing new journey you and your whānau are on – for all of our whānau to stand strong.


Ruamoko is commonly associated with earthquakes and landshifts, but it is also the atua of the unborn child.   It is a powerful reminder to us that waka whenua represents our tupuna returned to us in every new birth.   


You are paying tribute to the notion of an inter-generational genealogy; to honour the importance of identity, belonging, connection that is the gift of life that every baby born embodies.


Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu is so proud of your inspirational drive; your commitment to whānau wellbeing, your creative courage and your passion for a better birthing process to celebrate all our mokopuna.



Luke EganComment