Mahinga kai

Do you have Kereru in your Kowhai? Tuna (eels) in your drain?

There is a term for these treasures and the habitats that support them – in Māori, it is mahinga kai.

Mahinga kai is about 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.

For Ngāi Tahu, it is critical to manage these resources to allow people to continue gathering kai (food) in the way the ancestors did, and about mana and manaakitanga - the ability to welcome and host visitors by providing bountiful produce, as a demonstration of hospitality and respect.  These things are the essence of kaitiakitanga, or what many people today call guardianship.

This practice remains a foundation of Ngāi Tahu values today, although it has become increasingly difficult as sites, species, and habitats are lost, degraded, or compromised.

Why is it important today?

'Te toto o te tangata, he kai; te oranga o te tangata, he whenua'- Food supplies the blood of the people; their welfare depends on the land

These days, we are all custodians of the land and the resources they contain. What we do in our own backyards helps to protect and enhance our environment, as Ngāi Tahu tūpuna, or ancestors, did before us.
There is something special about providing the best environment for these mahinga kai treasures, and watching them do well.

Mahinga kai literally means 'to work the food’ and relates to the traditional value of food resources and their ecosystems, as well as the practices involved in producing, procuring, and protecting these resources.

Mahinga kai is about living and connecting in this world. For Ngai Tahu, it is about thriving and maintaining those things that sustain and nourish us, and that bring us wellbeing – clean water, clean air, clean soil, and sufficient shelter.  It includes access to clean and healthy kai, and doing this in a sustainable way, considering our future generations.

Watch these videos to help understand the ongoing importance of mahinga kai to Ngāi Tahu people. 

What exactly is mahinga kai?

'Ka hāhā te tuna ki te roto; ka hāhā te reo ke te kaika; ka hāhā te takata ki te whenua' - If there is no tuna (eels) in the lake; there will be no language or culture resounding in the home; and no people on the land; however, if there are tuna in the lake; language and culture will thrive; and the people will live proudly on the land - Nā Charisma Rangipuna i tuhi

Mahinga kai areas are likely to be those special areas on a property that are already been actively taken care of for their environmental or biodiversity significance - but it could also be for things that you were not aware of - the small and little things.

Mahinga kai refers to numerous species and inter-relationships rather than something specific. It includes things such as species, natural habitats, materials and practices used for harvesting food, and places where food or resources are, or were, gathered.

Whose responsibility is mahinga kai?

'Toitū te marae o Tāne; toitū te marae Tangaroa; toitū te iwi' - If the forests of Tāne are protected; and the oceans of Tangaroa are protected; so too are the people.

EVERYONE has a part to play in protecting and enhancing mahinga kai, as an important part of sustainable environmental management. Looking after mahinga kai sits alongside ecosystem health and biodiversity as an essential environmental objective in our region.

FARMERS who require land use consents to farm now also have a new responsibility to address mahinga kai. They need to be aware of the mahinga kai values and risks on farm, and address these when applying Industry-agreed Good Management Practices. This will include actions such as:

  • Protecting mahinga kai species and habitats when waterways are managed or cleared;
  • Sustaining mahinga kai through management of remnant native vegetation and wetlands.

Listen to the Radio NZ story where Environment Canterbury Cultural Land Management Advisor Mananui Ramsden and Ecan Ranger Makarini Rupene talk about mahinga kai with Leeston farmer Carey Barnett.

For more information on mahinga kai and new farmer responsibilities visit the canterburywater.farm website. 

Mahinga kai species guide

To help, the species guide below highlights many of the mahinga kai that are found in and around Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere), including those associated with lowland streams, drains, wetlands and on farms.  Many of these can also be found right across the region.

Manu | Birds

Pūtakitaki | Paradise Duck Male

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains, wetland, farmland & ponds Status: Not threatened

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Paradise Duck male

Pūtakitaki | Paradise Duck Female

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; wetland; farm ponds

Status: Not Threatened

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Paradise Duck female

Pāteke | Brown Teal

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; wetland; farm ponds

Status: At Risk Recovering

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Brown Teal

Tataa | Shoveler/Spoony

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; weltland farmland & ponds

Status: Not Threatened

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Shoveler

Tete | Grey Teal

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; wetland; farmland & ponds

Status: Not Threatened

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Grey Teal

Karoro | Black-backed gull

Habitat: Lake; coast; farmland & ponds

Status: Not Threatened

More information  Black backed gull

Poaka | Pied Stilt

Habitat: Lake; coast

Status: Not Threatened

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Pied Stilt

Matuku | Bittern

Habitat: Lake; wetland

Status: Threatened-Nationally Critical

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Bittern

Tara | Caspian Tern

Habitat: Lake; coast

Status: Threatened - Nationally Vulnerable

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Kōtuku | White Heron

Habitat: Lake; river; wetland Status: Threatened-Nationally Critical

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White Heron

Tūturiwhatu | Dotterel

Habitat: Lake; coast

Status: Threatened-Nationally Vulnerable

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Dotterel

Ngutu-parore | Wrybill

Habitat: Lake

Status: Threatened-Nationally Vulnerable

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Wrybill

Hua manu | Birds eggs

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains; wetland; coast

Status: TBC

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Black swan egg

Pūweto | Spotless crake

Habitat: Lake; wetland

Status: At Risk-Declining

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Spotless crake

Koitareke | Marsh crake

Habitat: Lake; wetland

Status: At Risk-Declining

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Marsh crake

Kāhu | Harrier Hawk

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains; farm

Status: Not Threatened

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Harrier Hawk

Kōtare | Kingfisher

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains; wetland

Status: Not Threatened

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Kingfisher

Kaaha/Kāmana | Crested Grebe

Habitat: Lake; wetland

Status: At Risk-declining

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Crested Grebe

Kakī nui/Kakī anu | Black Swan

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; wetland; farmland & ponds

Status: Not Threatened

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Black Swan

Pākura/Pūkeko | Swamp Hen

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains; wetland; farmland & ponds

Status: Not Threatened

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Swamp Hen

Kōau/Kawau | Black Shag

Habitat: Lake; near coast; the occasional visitor to other areas

Status: Naturally uncommon-Not Threatened

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Black Shag

Koau/Kawau | Pied Shag

Habitat: Lake; near coast the occasional visitor to other areas

Status: Not Threatened

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Pied Shag

Tara/Taranui | White-fronted Tern

Habitat: Lake; coast

Status: At Risk - Declining

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Black-fronted tern

Pārera | Grey Duck

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains, wetland, farmland & ponds

Status: Threatened - Nationally Critical

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Grey Duck
Kai moana/seafood | Fish, shellfish and crustacean's

Tuna | Longfin eel

Habitat: Lake, rivers & drains, penetrating well inland

Status: At Risk-Declining

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Longfin eel

Tuna/Hao | Shortfin eel

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; primarily in lowland area

Status: Not Threatened

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Shortfin eel

Kanakana/Piharau | Lamprey

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; predominantly lowland coastal

Status: Threatened-Nationally Vulnerable

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Lamprey

Pātiki tōtara | Yellow Belly Flounder

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; near mouth

Status: N/A

 

Yellow Belly Flounder

Pātiki mohoao | Black Flounder

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; near mouth

Status: Not Threatened

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Black Flounder

Pātiki | Sand Flounder

Habitat: Lake, rivers & drains, near mouth

Status: N/A

 Sand Flounder

Aua | Yellow Eyed Mullet

Habitat: Lake

Status: Not Threatened

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Yellow Eyed Mullet

Kēwai/Waikōura | Freshwater Crayfish

Habitat: Rivers & drains, ponds & lakes

Status: At Risk Declining, rare in Canterbury

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Freshwater Crayfish

Kākahi | Freshwater Mussel

Habitat: Lake, rivers & drains, in substrate

Status: At Risk-Declining

More information   Freshwater Mussel

Paraki | Smelt

Habitat:Lake & rivers, typically coastal but also associated with larger lakes

Status:Not Threatened

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Smelt

Mata | Whitebait

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drain, predominantly coastal or associated with large lakes

Status: Threat status species dependant

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Whitebait

Īnanga/Īnaka | Adults Whitebait

Habitat: Lake, rivers & drains, hāpua, in lowland areas close to the coast

Status: At Risk-Declining

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Inanga Adult Whitebait

Kōaro | Galaxias brevipinnis

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains; penetrates well inland; accomplished climber

Status: At-Risk Declining

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Kōkopu | Banded Kōkopu

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains, penetrates well inland

Status: Not threatened, rare in Canterbury

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Banded Kokopu

Taiwharu | Giant Kōkopu

Habitat: Lake, rivers & drains

Status: At Risk-declining, rare in Canterbury

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Giant Kokopu

Māruru | Giant Bully

Habitat: Rivers & drains; predominantly coastal and lowland

Status: Not Threatened

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Giant Bully Male

Koukoupara | Upland Bully

Habitat: Rivers & drains; non-migratory and occurs well inland

Status: Not Threatened

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Upland Bully Male

Toitoi | Common Bully

Habitat: Lake, rivers & drains, widely distributed but associated with lake or the sea

Status: Not Threatened

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Common Bully Male
Rākau | Plants

Harakeke | NZ Flax

Habitat: Lakes, streams, drains, wetlands, farms, coast

Status:Not Threatened

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NZ Flax

Ti kōuka | Cabbage Tree

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, farm, coast

Status: Not Threatened

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Cabbage Tree

Raupō | Bullrush

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains; wetland

Status: Not Threatened

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Bullrush

Wiwi | Common rush

Habitat: Lakes, wetland

Status: Not Threatened

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Common rush

Wiwi | Club rush

Habitat: Lakes, wetland 

Status: Not Threatened

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Wiwi | Knobby club rush

Habitat: Coast, dunes

Status: Not Threatened

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Knobby club rush

Kapungawha | Lake club rush

Habitat: Lakes, wetland

Status: Not Threatened

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Oioi | Jointed wire rush

Habitat: Lakes, wetland

Status: Not Threatened

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Jointed wire brush

Wiwi | Sea rush

Habitat: Lakes, wetland

Status: Not Threatened

More information   Sea rush

Aruhe | Bracken fernroot

Habitat:Farm/Dryland

Status: Not Threatened

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Bracken fernroot

Pīngao/Pīkao | Sand sedge

Habitat: Coast/Dune

Status: At Risk-Declining

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Sand sedge

Koromiko | Hebe

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, rivers & farms

Status: Not Threatened/NTCSA Taonga Species

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Akeake | Dodonea viscosa

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains; wetlands; farm, coast

Status: Not Threatened

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Akeake

Ngaio | Myoporum laetum

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains, wetlands, farm, coast

Status: Not Threatened

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Karamū | Coprosma robusta

Habitat: Lakes, rivers & drains, wetlands, farm, coast

Status: Not Threatened

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Coprosma

Kōwhai | Sophora microphylla

Habitat: Lake; rivers & drains; farm/dryland

Status: Not Threatened

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Kowhai

Maukoro | NZ Broom

Habitat: Farm/Dryland

Status: Not Threatened

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Makaka | Saltmarsh Ribbonwood

Habitat: Lakes, wetlands, farms

Status: Not Threatened

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Wi | Bog rush

Habitat: Lakes, wetlands

Status: Not Threatened

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Bog Rush

Upokotangata | Giant umbrella sedge

Habitat: Lake, wetlands

Status: Not Threatened

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Giant Umbrella Sedge

Kōwhitiwhiti | Watercress

Habitat: Rivers, drains

Status: Naturalised - Not Threatened

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Watercress

Pūkio | Carex secta

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, drains

Status: Not Threatened

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Pukio

Rautahi | Cutty Grass

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, drains

Status: Not Threatened

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Cutty Grass

Mānia | Carex flagellifera

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, drains

Status: Not Threatened

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Mania

Toetoe-kakaho | Toetoe

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, drains, farms

Status: Not Threatened

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Toetoe

Pātītī/Wī | Silver tussock

Habitat: Farm/Dryland

Status: Not Threatened

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Silver Tussock

Tororaro | Wiggy wig

Habitat: Farm/Dryland; Coast/Dune

Status: Threatened-Nationally Endangered

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Wiggy Wig

Wahu | Sundew

Habitat: Lakes, wetlands, farms

Status: Not Threatened

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Sundew

Onga | Swamp Nettle

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, drains, farms

Status: At Risk-Declining

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Swamp nettle

Maikaika | NZ Orchid

Habitat: Lakes, wetlands

Status: Not Threatened

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NZ orchid

Mānuka | NZ Tea Tree

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, drains, farms

Status: Not Threatened/NTCSA Taonga Species

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Kahikatea | White Pine

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, rivers & farms

Status: Not Threatened/NTCSA Taonga Species

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White Pine

Pōkākā | Elaeocarpus hookerianus

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, rivers & farms

Status: Not Threatened/NTCSA Taonga Species

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Tāwhiri | Pittosporum

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, wetlands, rivers & farms

Status: Not Threatened/NTCSA Taonga Species

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Pittosporum

Mikimiki | Coprosma Propinqua

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, drains, wetlands & farms

Status: Not Threatened/Important to Ngāi Tahu

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