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  • Lorraine Dixon (who works for the Waahi Whaanui Trust) helped to develop the Ake Ake model – a teaching tool that helps hapū identify their needs, goals and aspirations. Cultural indicators can then be developed from these needs, goals and aspirations with a view to restore the health and wellbeing of the Waikato River in the Huntly area.

    Rights: University of Waikato. All rights reserved.

    Cultural indicators

    Researcher Lorraine Dixon describes what a cultural indicator is and why they are important to Māori. The depletion of taonga species, for example, is an indicator recognised by Māori that something is not right with the environment.

    Cultural indicators

    Cultural indicators relate to changes that occur over time from a cultural perspective. For example, the decline of taonga river species is an indicator of a problem. Kaumātua talk about the quality and quantity of taonga kai such as tuna (eels) in the river when they were children. Tuna are no longer present in these numbers. This indicates a problem with the river (the environment). It also indicates that, as a consequence of the decline in river health, there could be further problems with the culture, society, economy and health and wellbeing of the people who depend on the river in all these areas. The river is part of their identity.

    Once an indicator is identified, iwi consider what may have contributed to the problem, for example, the decline of a species. Restorative steps can then be taken. Lorraine stresses that cultural indicators are important because scientific indicators don’t reflect the cultural perspective. Hapū living in this area have done so for generations – they know their own backyard better than anyone else, and they have knowledge of the area that has been handed down the generations. They are also aware of the interconnections between the environment, the species living there and themselves and their lifestyle.

    Cultural indicators can also be used to assess whether restoration practices are working. For example, the return of taonga species is an indicator that the health and wellbeing of the river is improving.

    Lorraine helped develop the Ake Ake (forever and ever) model as a means to identify cultural indicators and to explore river restoration to strengthen the cultural community.

    The Ake Ake model

    The Ake Ake model is a pictorial cultural mapping of individual perspectives. Perspectives are considered across five components: environmental, economic, cultural, social, and health and wellbeing. The model is produced in three steps:

    • Iwi learn about how the river people lived in the past – with reference to each of the five components.
    • Iwi identify the present situation – with reference to each of the five components.
    • Iwi draw what they want the future to look like for iwi in 50 years’ time. Drawings should include representation of the five components.
    Rights: University of Waikato. All rights reserved.

    The Ake Ake model

    The Ake Ake model is a pictorial mapping of someone’s perspective. Researcher Lorraine Dixon uses the model to encourage iwi to share their views including values and possible issues around maintaining those values. They are also encouraged to represent what they would like the future to look like.

    Lorraine developed this model for iwi participation. However, usually only a small proportion of those present in a hui participate. The Ake Ake model calls for much greater participation, and whānau enjoy it because they’re contributing towards their future and the future of their children.

    Working through the steps

    Iwi discussion and decision-making is often left to kaumātua. The Ake Ake model includes a range of age groups – kaumātua, rangatahi and kōhanga.

    Firstly, kaumātua visit various groups and talk about the past – how the river ran clear and the awa was the source of drinking water. The people lived off the river – tuna filled the boats, whitebait was plentiful and the watercress was healthy and edible. The people were healthy because they ate healthy food from the river. The river was their transport. People went to the river for healing from illness. The river was the central focus of the people. Values of whānau support and sustainability were based on river activity. Rangatahi were taught the ways of their people by kaumātua. This knowledge encompassed the river as the people’s place to live and socialise, their means of support, their health and spiritual wellbeing. Stories are handed down about how people could be identified by their distinctive smell because of the amount of time they spent in their part of the river or lake.

    Secondly, the group discusses the present condition of the people and the river. Cultural indicators are identified across the five components. Lorraine shares about a fragmentation of cultural connection due to land changes and land ownership around the awa. This had a direct effect on the people of the river. Cultural values were lost – not passed on to rangatahi. Connections to the river were lost. The river became unhealthy, and the people became unhealthy.

    Finally, the group are asked to make a pictorial representation of the Huntly area with the river and marae as they would like to see it in 50 years’ time. Common themes in the pictures are identified for future restoration work. The drawings are then archived to depict iwi thinking for future generations.

    Common themes

    The Ake Ake model helps iwi to set goals and have aspirations for the future. Common themes emerging include:

    • restoring earlier cultural values and generational knowledge and transferring that knowledge to the next generation
    • being socially connected to the river – having communal activities around the river to restore a feeling of being one people
    • restoring their role as kaitiaki caring for and protecting the environment – this includes working collaboratively with scientists to restore the river and taonga species
    • utilising the natural resources to become economically sustainable.

    This project helps highlight the values of the past and present and helps to maintain values for the future. It combines science and culture in a holistic way.

    Rights: University of Waikato. All rights reserved.

    Awa and iwi

    Lorraine Dixon talks about the relationship between the river (awa) and the people (iwi).

    Nature of science

    Science knowledge is produced within a society and culture. Scientists often explore areas of concern to people. In this case, they are investigating cultural indicators and helping kaitiaki with river restoration, which in turn helps to restore cultural identity.

    Related activities

    Mapping the future uses the Ake Ake model to explore changes that have taken place in a local environment.

    Ake Ake – forever and ever uses the Waikato River as the context for using the model.

    Wetland (repo) connections – ecological and cultural perspectives uses wetland restoration as the context for learning.

    Related content

    This resource uses manu as the context for using the model.


    John Te Maru (Ngāti Haua) who also helped develop the Ake Ake model, Te Wharekura o Rakaumanga, Waahi Whaanui Trust, Tainui Development Authority, Te Rōpū Pūtaiao (mandated environmental marae representatives from Waahi , Kaitumutumu, Te Ohāki, Te Kauri, Matahuru and Taupiri).

      Published 19 March 2014 Referencing Hub articles
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