Learning the lay of the land

A Victoria University of Wellington alumna is combining her knowledge of mātauranga Māori with modern science for the benefit of her whānau, hapū and iwi.

Aaria Dobson-Waitere

Aaria Dobson-Waitere (Ngā Rauru-ki-Tahi and Ngā Ruahinerangi) was one of 15 people—and the only one from Aotearoa/New Zealand—to be awarded a scholarship from the Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS) this year.

As part of her scholarship, the 23-year-old is travelling to California next month to attend two international conferences, the annual Esri User and SCGIS conferences, and take a specialised three-week Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course.

GIS is a computer-based system that is used to capture, manage, analyse and visualise spatial and geographic data to understand relationships, patterns and trends.

Aaria says her interest in GIS spawned from her love for the taiao (environment).

“I’m passionate about the role that people have as kaitiaki (caretakers) of the environment. I believe this role lays the whāariki (mat) for our collective wellbeing, not only as Māori, but as humans, and we all have responsibility for our environmental wellbeing.”

Aaria graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Victoria in 2016, majoring in Ecology and Biodiversity and Māori Resource Management. She recently completed a Master of Conservation Biology and plans to graduate at Te Herenga Waka Marae this December.

She now works as a Kaiāwhina Taiao/ Environmental Assistant at Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika/ Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust. The vision of Taranaki Whānui is:

Ki te whakahou, whakapakari me te whakanikoniko i te ahurea, papori, me te rangatiratanga o Taranaki Whānui ki Te Ūpoko o Te Ika

To restore, revitalise, strengthen and enhance the cultural, social and economic well-being of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Ūpoko o Te Ika.

“My role entails processing resource consents, developing a GIS system and supporting the Kaiwhakahaere Taiao (Environmental Manager) with their responsibilities. An important part of our mahi is working alongside local and regional councils within our rohe (district) to ensure that a mana whenua perspective is being included in decision making.”

She’s also a rangatahi representation on the committee for Ngā Hau e Wha o Papararangi, a community restoration project in Newlands.

“I am extremely excited for the haerenga (trip),” says Aaria, “and the opportunity to learn new skills and techniques that can be brought back and utilised throughout Aotearoa.”

Aaria says her studies give her confidence to be a voice for Māori. “I’m supportive of any education, iwi development and programmes that encourage our rangatahi (younger generation) to enter the natural world of our tūpuna (ancestors) as a career path.”

Whilst in the United States, Aaria also plans to meet with other indigenous communities who have used GIS technology to support their communities and tell historical stories in a meaningful way.