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  • Laura Donkers

"Mindfulness and Ballerina Shoes": Restoring an Urban Stream in Aotearoa New Zealand

Updated: Oct 8

I wrote a collaborative submission with Charmaine Baillie, to the Open Rivers e-journal | Rethinking Water, Place and Community. This paper and accompanying video, present how Māori and non-Māori are working together to restore an urban stream in Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. This work was carried out by the Kaipātiki Project[i]- a community regeneration organisation led by Charmaine - who has evolved their Western science approaches to forest, stream and estuary restoration to engage with principles of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world view.[ii] Te Ao Māori presents an alternative to the Enlightenment mindset of a nature/culture divide[iii] by connecting daily living and the need for energy, food and water supply, with care for the environment. Through its community and ecological work, the Kaipātiki Project weaves mātauranga (traditional knowledge concepts) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship practices) into predominant Western mindsets to help transform societal behaviours into more ecologically connected ones.


Kaipātiki Project’s pedagogical approach to inspiring and educating volunteers is demonstrated in Re-Generation (2019), which tracks the journey of volunteers as they engage with the Kākā Reserve for the first time. In the video, we meet Charmaine briefing participants on how to safely navigate the reserve so as not to destroy the native seedlings that are present, and that without this presence of mind the volunteers can do more damage than good. She advises a process of stepping through the bush as though wearing ballet shoes to avoid “grinding weeds in and wiping native plants out” as a form of presence-based action[iv]. She moves onto native plant identification and highlights their local Māori names. This leads onto the purpose of the day’s activities with a discussion around the process of weeding out the non-native plants: the importance of identifying them at all stages and using a method of ‘pulling up’ and ‘cutting down’ rather chemicals. This approach takes time that Charmaine believes to be a preferable one. From the initial flurry of information overload the tone of the session becomes calmer. A plan to identify just one weed type rather than the need to recognise many empowers volunteers with a strategy for weeding.


As the video progresses, we start to see more of the reserve and hear birds calling. Charmaine draws attention to its value as a feeding station for different bird groups. She also highlights the value in taking time to be self-reflective: that working like this supports exercise and rejuvenation but also provides some downtime to attend to one’s own emotional and spiritual needs. This pause for reflection coincides with the point in the video where we finally meet the entity at the centre of the restoration work, Awataha Stream. As we view the reserve from its perspective now, through the reflections in the water, we reflect on how the volunteers’ labour is helping to regenerate it and, in their journey to restore nature, they are (re)connecting themselves to the entity of the stream.


This paper concludes that with guidance and support, non-indigenous communities can develop new perspectives on nature and culture, learn to value these more dearly, and begin to help repair some of the ecological damage our ways of living have caused. #maori #daylighting #motivation #restoration #ecology #nature #ecofriendly #environment #collaboration #mindfulness #meditation #regeneration #climate #climatechange #environment #globalwarming #climatecrisis #climateaction #earth #sustainability #savetheplanet #climatechangeisreal #climatestrike #climateemergency #climatejustice #sustainable #ecofriendly #fridaysforfuture #green

[i] The Kaipātiki Project: Our Work https://kaipatiki.org.nz/our-work/ [ii] “The Māori world view (te ao Māori) acknowledges the interconnectedness and interrelationship of all living and non-living things” https://ourlandandwater.nz/about-us/te-ao-maori/ [iii] ‘The Enlightenment mindset focused on the power of human intelligence to grasp and explain the natural world and discover natural causes of phenomena previously considered supernatural. Enlightenment science and technology scrutinised and harnessed the power of all aspects of the natural world. Nature was regarded as an object of investigation rather than a force in its own right.’ https://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history-art/the-enlightenment/content-section-7 [iv] Presence-based action is the ‘practice of presence in goal-related activity by increasing present-moment attention and awareness. It consists of a 4-step process – stop, observe, align, allow – to developing new approaches to work, increasing focus and calm, promoting wholeness, and supporting the clarification of values and priorities.’ Topp, E.M. (2006). Presence-based Coaching: The Practice of Presence in Relation to Goal-directed Activity. A PhD dissertation in Transpersonal Psychology. Palo Alto, California. file:///C:/Users/Laura/AppData/Local/Temp/PresenceBasedCoachingDissertation.pdf


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