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Ngāti Hako Connections to Hauraki Repo: Historical and Cultural Narrative Analysis of Kopuatai Peat Dome, Oruarangi Pā Site Wetlands, and Whiritoa Estuary

Ngāti Hako are an iwi who - due to having a small population and a lack of recorded history - are often excluded from the wider environmental management discourse in Aotearoa. How can a contemporary art practice contribute to, and empower, iwi-specific narratives and perspectives in the freshwater management space to rectify the disparities faced by Ngāti Hako?


Objects found at Oruarangi Pā site convey what life within the wetlands might have been like. Needles, pumice vessels for pigments, musical instruments, heru, toki, kapeu, tiki, fish hooks and spears show that life was abundant. Leisure is seen in the nose flutes, pumice bowls with red and yellow paints, and the carved figures that resemble toys. Hunting and gathering is evident in the vast amount of fish hooks, sinkers and adzes. Traditional adornments such as heru, kapeu and tiki show that there were societal hierarchies within this settlement, taonga being worn by chiefly figures. And art making was a key part of life here in the swamplands, fine needles used for ta moko and stitching were found among flax beaters and chisels for carving. Through these objects, life within the Hauraki repo can be imagined and perhaps replicated within visual media and writing.


FUREY, LOUISE. Oruarangi. The Archaeology and Material Culture of a Hauraki Pa. Auckland. Auckland Institute and Museum. 1996


Ka mua, ka muri – 'walking backwards into the future'.

How can these shadows of the past inform the way in which we engage in wetland restoration today? How can they guide the way we build architecture; source natural resources; and expand our cultural net-worth without exploiting and imposing on this land that already has a long history of colonial hurt and destruction? 

Relativity between the sustainability of us as indigenous peoples, and the land and water we live with, is inherent and is deeply rooted in our traditions and belief systems. However, this is not yet understood more widely, which is evident in the way that the Crown, local government, and the general public have perceived and treated the repo. This research hopes to take on an iwi-specific stance to encourage restorative projects that embody contextual entireties. Below is an anecdote of my visit to my marae, Te Kotahitanga, located in Tirohia, Aotearoa:



Hui with Ngāti Hako Kaumātua at Te Kotahitanga Marae, Tirohia
1pm - 3pm

I was nervous driving the Hauraki highways. I was worried I wouldn’t make it on time. I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time to buy kai for us all to share. The night before, I was worried that the forecast for heavy rains was accurate, and the roads would be flooded on my way there, so close to Kopuatai and Waihou, known for their deluges. However, I was welcomed with hugs without a formal pōwhiri, and I felt like I was home again. We shared the pork and watercress pies I bought over some kawhi and tī before commencing the hui. 

In the wharenui, once formal introductions were made, two things were made clear. The first was that I need to proceed with caution when writing about our people. Researchers have previously made the mistake of representing Ngāti Hako as a conquered people, which the kaumātua were adamant was not the case. In spite of what literature surrounding us states - which often comes from the perspective of others who hope to gain from such a narrative - we were never subjugated. The example they used was the use of our tupuna maunga, Rae o te Papa, being turned into a landfill in 2003 by Waste Management NZ who used this narrative to gain resource consents to do so. According to the kaumātua, the company paid a researcher to write a “desktop report”, and it was apparent that this person selected what was beneficial to the company, and framed Ngāti Hako as a conquered people to show that our claims as mana whenua were invalid, and our fight against this development therefore “lacked substance” (; .


At present, the landfill occupies a former quarry in our maunga, an eyesore when I drove to the marae. This narrative undermines our rights as mana whenua of this region, and will continue to do so until our stories and histories are explicitly stated, recorded, and distributed to avoid any further loss, confusion, and weaponisation of language. I recognise I have also fallen into this trap of researching and only coming across the narratives of others, rather than our own, which are readily available online and in books. Most of this content comes from the mouths and pens of the Crown, and other Hauraki iwi which have had historical rivalries with us. I admit this fault and my lack of critical thinking in the past when engaging with this information. As a result, I have gone back to my past writings to redact and amend harmful content where possible, so they cannot be used to exploit more of our whenua.

The second point that was this research I am undertaking is relevant to the freshwater aspirations of our iwi, who are currently planning restoration processes for our repo. This was reiterated by the sun shining through the kūwaha, which kaumatua Paranapa Otimi stated in his whaikōrero was a “tohu pai” for things to come, despite the aforementioned forecast of heavy rain and cold weather. While in the wharekai, there were talks of the state of the Waihou river and the mineralisation happening as a result of prior straightening of the river. This has caused issues in the clarity and the wellbeing of freshwater species, as well as the overall flow of the river and state of its tributaries. One potential solution that came up was to recreate the original motu that existed in the river, creating swirling effects that distributed the minerals rather than letting them sink and fester in the water. There were also talks of placing these motu near the repo to filter out these minerals and avoid an excess build up. This conversation inspired ideas of ways to live within the repo, ways that were more suited to the constant flooding rather than attempting to subjugate it, as has been done in the past but has been detrimental to the hauora of the repo and the surrounding catchment area. These are the ideas that interest me. How do we reference the ways in which our ancestors lived among the flood plains and repo in our present day occupation? How can we draw from examples overseas, where people live in floating settlements and travel by canoe from one home to another? And how do we address this issue of the missing motu that once guided the flow of the river without disrupting the current needs of society in the Hauraki region?

Once inside the wharenui, I presented and explained the purpose of my thesis. Replies were excited and eager, with one kuia, Pauline Clarkin who leads many of the restoration projects at Kopuatai, saying that this could not have come at a better time. They are in the process of planning restoration activities for our repo, and believe that this is the first time that someone has decided to undertake in depth research from the lens of our iwi that is based within narrative and tribal histories. I was told it was a brave endeavour considering the breadth of the subject matter, being three wetlands with deep cultural and colonial histories, but it means that there is potential to recognise that despite their physical separation, these repo are interconnected. Whiritoa is connected to Kopuatai via the Ohinemuri RIver that runs through the mountains, and Kopuatai and Oruarangi are connected by the Waihou and Piako Rivers, creating a path from the east coast of Hauraki to the opening to Tikapa Moana further north, thus creating a highway for migration and settlement (Figure 4). This inclusion of all three allows an understanding that people and water systems are intrinsically linked because we are sustained by the water and it dictates the way that we move around the motu. This also avoids the compartmentalisation of land and water, that often occurs with Crown and local government processes, by recognising that there is a system. As mentioned above, it is impossible to consider single solutions that fix problems in the short term, like building motu to restore the natural flow of a river. These rivers feed into wetlands for a reason, and water is deposited elsewhere into other streams, ponds, and oceans. One cannot give attention to that which is directly in front of them without considering the causes upstream, or the effects downstream. Furthermore, it is easy to forget that there are tangata whenua who still live by the side of repo, whose ancestors created a livelihood there, which explains the interests in looking at global examples of better living within the repo and mitigating human disturbance. 

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An example of this compartmentalisation of water bodies is the urgency to save Tikapa Moana, or the Hauraki Gulf, which is currently occupying the attention of media and protest activism (r Although Tikapa is important to the identity and livelihood of many Maori and non-Maori alike, it is easy to forget that the ocean contributes to and is a part of a system of freshwater and briny water systems, including the Waihou river and the surrounding repo. It was emphasised in our hui that the only way to fully realise the restoration of these water bodies is to treat them holistically, rather than compartmentally, to adopt plans that look at the entire catchment to form better outcomes for our wai. Another example of compartmentalisation is the lack of Crown assistance when it comes to iwi that have unsettled Waitangi Tribunal Claims. The kaumatua explained that they had previously attempted to contact the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) regarding the wetlands, and were made promises that were never fulfilled. In my own experience working as a policy analyst at MfE in 2021, I found that there was a hesitancy to engage with Hauraki iwi in freshwater issues, policy writing and decision making. Iwi who were yet to have their claims settled, like Ngati Hako, were excluded across the country, and those hapu that live by the water and rely on it were also shunned due to lack of governance structures. There is also a lot of controversy occuring in the Hauraki region at present, with many Hauraki iwi going through court processes for overlapping claims in the Tamaki, Aotea, and Tauranga regions, making it difficult to engage with the region overall despite Ngati Hako being largely removed from that conflict (


Not only is a huge area of the North Island being excluded from this conversation, the Crown is failing to recognise past grievances that they had caused and continue to cause within the Hauraki catchment, and have once again clumped the people of Hauraki into a tidy bundle to cast aside in spite of our clear tribal differences, interests, and freshwater management plans. It begs the question: how can we get our foot in the door through visual and written activism to encourage wider awareness within the public; local government; the Crown; and our own people? What tools do we have at our disposal to realise freshwater aspiration regardless of Crown hesitancy to engage? And how can the intrinsic links between cultural identity, the prosperity of repo, and the livelihood of tangata whenua be communicated through iwi-specific research within this field of study? It also emphasised the importance of critiquing these systems that are barring our people from doing what is best for te taiao, which is an issue that many indigenous people globally are facing, due to the imagined bureaucratic difficulty that is ‘poor governance structure’. 

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