When Ngāti Rangi iwi, located on the southern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, and environmental group Leave No Trace New Zealand showcased the success of their partnership programme at the World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC) in Vancouver, Canada last week, Dr Chris North’s work had a crucial role.
With New Zealand tourism numbers growing exponentially each year, Ngāti Rangi has noticed an increasing impact on their maunga – mountains, in their awa – rivers and throughout the rohe – their lands.
Concerned about increasing damage to the Ruapehu environment and cultural landscape they contacted Leave No Trace New Zealand and together, developed and piloted a programme aimed at training local people working in the area of tourism and in turn, they passed on their learnt knowledge to visitors.
Based on Ngāti Rangi values and principles, the course was, led, co-developed and hosted by the iwi’s Pou Taiao Manager Dave Milner.
“It’s gratifying to have our mahi – work recognised internationally as world-leading”, Mr Milner said.
Tourism operators learnt how to deliver key messages to visitors to the region based on research into the most effective strategies compiled by Dr North.
These messages included, “sharing the cultural significance of the maunga with visitors and encouraging them to make sure they bring their rubbish off the mountain.
“Respectful actions like these seem simple but exponentially help to not only mitigate the impact on the Ruapehu environment but also helps build bridges among community ”, Dr North said.
Research into the benefits of the training programme shows that participants are using the knowledge learnt from the course to tailor their messages to tourists over six months after the training.
Environmental education internationally is looking at opportunities to work together with indigenous peoples, he says.
“With ever growing tourist numbers around the globe, we are leading the way in this project. It is exciting to see experts from around the world wanting to learn more about what we are doing and how we are doing it.
“As a researcher, it has been some of the most rewarding work I have done. The cross-cultural aspects of this project has challenged me to listen more carefully, tread more gently and be more aware of my own world view. Ngāti Rangi have shown a great deal of trust and generosity in inviting me to work with them.
“I really think the approach we took to this project has potential to benefit New Zealand more broadly.”
Leave No Trace and Ngāti Rangi are pleased with the outcomes and recommend the benefits and learnings to other local communities who are concerned at environmental degradation in their areas.