Welcome to central zones for Pou Mātai Kō Tana Luke

Sometimes it feels like you were born for a job. And Tana Luke knew the role of Pou Mātai Kō/Cultural Land Management Advisor at Environment Canterbury was written for him.

Pou Mātai Kō lead the way when it comes to mātauranga Māori/knowledge and lend advice to urban and rural communities about how benefitting the environment could also benefit their way of life.

Although he’s only been in the job for a few months and admits to still feeling the odd pang of imposter syndrome, Tana is settling in to life at Environment Canterbury and is looking forward to making a real difference across the region’s three central zones – Selwyn-Waihora, Christchurch West Melton, and Banks Peninsula.

That means his takiwā/area of influence extends from the northern side of the Rakaia River to the southern banks of the Waimakariri River, an area Tana is more than familiar with.

Tana's kaitiakitanga of the takiwā

“When I think about my connection to the land – the word that comes to mind is ‘kaitiakitanga’, having guardianship of the land,” he said.

“It’s always been important to me, but since becoming a father, the concept of kaitiakitanga and protecting the environment for the next generation as the past generation did for me has become even more important,” Tana said.

Born in Blenheim and raised in Ōtautahi/Christchurch, Tana is a graduate of Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa and Whare Wānanga. He attended St Thomas of Canterbury College, before heading to the University of Canterbury for a Bachelor of Arts in Māori and indigenous studies, majoring in te reo Māori and a diploma in Te Pīnakitanga ki te reo Kairangi.

“I’m super passionate about te reo, the culture and my whānau, so I feel like I was always going to find myself in a job like this one.

“This job aligns with my values and with my upbringing, which is really important to me. My aim in all of this is to cultivate a better understanding of mahinga kai and its value within Waitaha/Canterbury,” Tana said.

Why is mahinga kai important?

Mahinga kai is the value of natural resources that sustain life, including the life of people. It is important to manage and protect these resources in the same way that ancestors have done before us.

It includes all living organisms in our region’s waterways, along with the protection, cultivation and harvesting of things like harakeke/flax and inanga/whitebait.

“Mahinga kai can be a hard concept to grasp for someone who has never come across it before – but one of my favourite parts of the job is talking to a farmer who has done things a certain way for a long time, and within the conversation, you can see their progression and the change in mindset.

“So, if I can go home and say that I’ve had a conversation with someone who has seen the importance of mahinga kai on their farm, then that’s a big success.

“I often find myself working alongside farmers to help educate and support them through integrating mahinga kai into their practices. Mahinga kai literally means ‘to work the food’ and relates to the traditional value of food resources and their ecosystems.

“It’s been really cool to see the work Environment Canterbury has done over the past few years to make mahinga kai a pillar of our work around the region,” he said.

Hopeful future for more Pou Mātai Kō

Tana is the third Pou Mātai Kō at Environment Canterbury after Makarini Rupene (leading work in Waimakariri, Hurunui-Waiau and Kaikōura) and Rosemary Clucas (leading work in Ashburton, Orari Temuka Opihi Pareora, Lower and Upper Waitaki).

Tana hopes the number of Pou Mātai Kō will increase across the organisation to maximise engagement with rural and urban audiences on how to reduce the impact our land-use has on our environment.

“Environment Canterbury sees the value in Pou Mātai Kō, and I enjoy working with the community to ensure they have a positive experience and see value in sustainable land management, rather than worrying about possible enforcement action.

“One of the best things is that everyone in the building genuinely cares about the environment and they’re working hard to reflect mahinga kai values in their own roles,” he said.

If you want to get in touch with Tana for help with mātauranga Māori or mahinga kai practices, contact him at tana.luke@ecan.govt.nz