Pūniu River Care
Guardians of the Land
The culture and the mana were evident when visiting Pūniu River Care’s (PRC) office and nursery in the heart of Te Awamutu. This Māori-led incorporated society and registered charity, founded by Shannon Te Huia, was founded in 2015 as a means to protect and care for the environment, with its foundations supporting four local marae: Mangatoatoa Pā, Rāwhitiroa, Aotearoa and Whakamārama.
“For PRC, it’s about finding our place as being kaitiaki (guardians) of the river and entrenching that into the whare (house) of the catchment. It’s also about intergenerational responsibility and ensuring that something within our whare remains committed to the kaupapa (principles/ideas) of taking care of our awa (river),” Shannon said.
When we arrived at PRC’s nursery, we were warmly greeted by communications manager Quinton Tunoho and were fortunate enough to participate in their morning hui (meeting) that takes place before they start the day’s mahi (work). The hui sets the intentions for the day, incorporating karakia (prayer), waiata (song) and maramataka (moon reading) from their workplace kaumātua (elder), followed by any staff notices and announcements. This unique approach places an emphasis on Te Ao Māori (the Māori worldview) which encompasses strength, unity and a sense of belonging.
Once it was time for the team to break off into their two groups, they had micro meetings about their plans for the day – one team focusing on planting and maintenance at another location, whilst the other team remained on site. We spent a large portion of our visit at the nursery, watching the workers sorting shrubs into different sections that will then be planted at various locations across the region. The team spirit was high as they listened to music and sang in unison, helping one another with nursery tasks.
“Our mahi involves fencing off waterways, protecting them from stock and erosion, and planting them out in native fl ora. For us, we're like a vehicle creating movement within the community. People can be involved through employment and by supporting what we do. But really bringing that back and relating it to the practices that happen, in and around the marae. We take on anybody, especially if you’ve got the right thinking and you want to reconnect with nature and culture – attitude is everything. Some people are connected to the local marae, others are not,” Shannon highlighted.
Te Awamutu local Shannon grew up on a farm and has always had an interest in the natural environment and animals. Starting PRC seven and a half years ago stemmed from his love for nature and wanting to make sure that the next generation was able to enjoy the same things. PRC originally started as a small group of three based at the local marae. Today, they have expanded to a workforce of 45 staff , completing over 75 kilometres of fencing and planting over 1.4 million trees to date across the Waikato, Waipā District and King Country.
“I love being alone out by the river and around the trees, and seeing the growth and the sites that we’ve restored. You get nature started and then it just takes over. So, when we walk away and we're sleeping or when we're doing other things, it's still going hard. It's like a machine and you just start it up and it goes, so I really love going back to some of the areas that we've done,” Shannon said.
Project manager Raymond Spooner and site supervisor Pearson Tukua both shared their experiences of being part of the PRC family. “I like the core values that we have here – whanaungatanga (relationships/kinship), māramatanga (enlightenment), mauri (life force), rangatiratanga (self-determination/ sovereignty), kohā (acknowledging the celebration of life) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) – they encompass everything that I hold closely in my own values as well,” Raymond said.
Raymond has a background in dairying, starting his farming career straight out of school. He wanted a better work-life balance instead of working seven days a week, so he took on a role as team lead, working his way up to project manager. His day-to-day jobs include farm site visits and land/owner engagements, making sure everything is running smoothly. “Everyone here has a job description but ends up doing multiple roles.
That’s one of the exciting things about working here, you can experience and explore. Being outdoors and the connection of collecting seeds, planting them and watching them grow aligns with people. I want to do as much as I can to help the kaupapa grow into something awesome that provides education and employment for the younger generations,” he said.
Pearson has been in the environmental space for ten years, previously working at the Department of Conservation (DOC) before accepting his role at PRC. Pearson is trying to find the balance between being in the office and on-site at the nursery where he focuses on site preparation, planting and maintenance.
“I like the culture within PRC; it’s a unique thing to have Māori tikanga leading the way instead of doing it as a tick box activity, and I thrive on the responsibility of having staff to look after – it’s really empowering. Being part of the kaupapa and seeing how it grows – that is a big driver for me,” he said.
PRC undertakes a variety of local and national government contracts and has received support from a range of stakeholders, including the Waikato River Authority, Ministry for the Environment, Momentum Waikato, Sustainable Coastlines and more. Shannon and the team at PRC are really thankful for all the support and funding that they’ve received, and know that their growth wouldn’t have been made possible without them. PRC has been working with Goldpine since they started, building their first nursery with wood and timber.
“There’s a real importance in partnership and aligning yourself with organisations that have similar goals, and helping each other to achieve them. I’ve found that Goldpine has been really community orientated so it’s cool to be working with them,” Shannon emphasised.
With over 35 species, PRC grows a diverse range of plants for wetlands and dry terrain. Their latest venture has been entering the commercial space where you can buy trees straight from their website. This will give PRC more room to grow and innovate. Shannon has also been researching projects on eels and fi sh life which has been an exciting experience for him. “We’re just starting to get into some of the monitoring so we can better understand our impact – concentrating on what we’re doing and doing it better; creating less waste and using less water in a way that we can reduce our footprint and also still love what we do.”