North Taranaki Māori studying to work for the environment are in line for a scholarship from their local council, which wants more iwi and hapū help with resource management decisions.
New Plymouth District Council's Whakapuāwai Taiao will pay the fees of students with whakapapa to local iwi and hapū for tertiary qualifications relevant to te taiao - the natural world that contains and surrounds us.
Also known as the Environmental and Planning Fees Scholarship, it will support study of environmental management and resource planning, including degrees, postgraduate diplomas and Masters from universities - or from others like Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi or Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
The aim is more hapū and iwi specialists upholding kaitiakitanga obligations (in this case nurture and protection of the environment) by assisting decision-making as NPDC weighs environmental management and resource development.
NPDC's iwi relationships team kaitohutohu or policy adviser Rangi Maihi said work on the district plan with mana whenua showed they needed more qualified experts to participate fully in local decision-making by council.
"The more kaitiaki (stewards) who're familiar with resource management law and how decisions are made, the easier it is for them to make sure that what we do back here [at council] incorporates their kaitiaki values in our decision-making, because they can put it into the process for us," said Maihi.
Kaitiakitanga is an obligation for mana whenua, who carry responsibility to protect nature for communities today and future generations.
"It's not that kaitiaki need to learn to be kaitiaki: It's that if they're familiar with our processes they can more easily communicate with us about what matters to them in the decisions we make."
Resource consents, for example, could then be processed more smoothly.
"Ideally where we really want to head is that consent applicants have engaged, met with and understand tangata whenua concerns ahead of lodging an application… so the information that comes through in the application is already built in."
Applicants can be of Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Maru, Te Ātiawa and Taranaki Iwi, or of the hapū Ngāti Rahiri, Otarāua, Manukōrihi, Pukerangiora, Puketapu, Ngāti Tāwhirikura, Ngāti Tūparikino, Ngāti Te Whiti, Ngāti Tāiri, and Ngā Mahanga.
Maihi said there was no thought to bond students to a spell at council, but instead a preference for those with proven support for and from their people.
"For those who are actually involved with the iwi and hapū, or their families are. What we'd like to see is people that end up with these qualifications are able to go back and work for the iwi and hapū."
Money was available to pay fees right through a four-year degree and potentially all the way to a doctorate.
The scholarships flow from the Three Waters reforms 'better-off funding' which remains up for grabs despite the National-led coalition government's axing of the water shakeup.
Maihi's boss, iwi relationships team kaiārahi Aroha Chamberlain, said the scholarship launch showed the council's deepening relationships with hapū and iwi were not altered by a change in the Beehive.
"My understanding is that we carry on, we do what we're doing, we continue down this path unless it is legislated so that we can't continue down this path.
"It's really important for our community that we are working together with mana whenua. So that's not going to change anytime soon."
LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.