Erica Gregory

Erica Gregory, Manahautū Kaupapa Kura Taiao standing in front of Rongomaraeroa, Te PapaPapa

Erica Gregory, Manahautū Kaupapa Kura Taiao – Acting General Manager of the EPA’s Māori policy and operations group

Waikato, Ngāti Maniapoto

Part of my role is to explain and champion the EPA’s mātauranga framework. Mātauranga is a body of knowledge, experience, values and philosophy of Māori.

We commissioned the EPA’s mātauranga framework three years ago, to foster and embed understanding of mātauranga across the EPA. We want it to be more of a force in our work. We want our decision-makers to confidently test and probe mātauranga when it is presented in evidence.

The question for us is how, as a regulator and government organisation, do we meaningfully consider mātauranga knowledge, recognising it pertains to life on the marae, life in the sea, life in the forest – life across te taiao.

I bring quite wide life and work experience to the task. My mother was my inspiration. She was very secure as Māori, and passed that feeling on to me.

Manaakitanga informed everything my mother did. So relations and friends would stay with us whenever they had nowhere to go. That way of being – treating people with respect, with generosity, opening your home and your heart – rubbed off on me. My mother was on a widow’s benefit and had four children, but manaakitanga was in her genes.

I remember, near the end of the 6th form (Year 12), my teacher asked how many of us in the class were Māori. There were two of us. My teacher was astonished, as were we, that she hadn’t known. It wasn’t overt prejudice. We were well regarded academically, but unrecognised for who we really were.

I graduated with a degree in English Literature, then a Master’s in business administration and Te Pokairewa Reo Rumaki, an Advanced Certificate in Māori Immersion.

I’ve held several departmental policy roles, heavily focused on Māori involvement in economic development and environmental management.

"Māori think long-term, inter-generationally, about the environment. We ask ‘how can we deal respectfully with knowledge passed to us by our ancestors?’ We must tread carefully, so what we leave for future generations is better than before."

As the holders of mātauranga, Māori are willing to share their knowledge to provide a basis for decision-making.

In EPA processes, if Māori partner with others, their local knowledge may inform an application or their own submission. But the mātauranga always belongs to those who provided it. We need to protect mātauranga as a Māori knowledge system, rather than usurping and applying it in our own way to something quite different.

Mātauranga is often about what is observed and lived. It tends to focus on the whole before exploring the detail, the component parts. Science likes to delve into the detail, to work towards the whole.

Through the mātauranga framework we acknowledge the contribution mātauranga knowledge can make to fully-informed decision-making.

Things are changing: society as a whole is sensitive to environmental issues, and is saying that Māori approaches and knowledge are important to all Aotearoa.

Environmental management through a Māori lens

This year has seen the culmination of another of our key initiatives, the completion of our mātauranga framework. The framework is the culmination of a three-year programme aimed at helping our decision makers understand, test and probe mātauranga when it is presented in evidence.

Mātauranga is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of te taiao – the natural environment. It includes knowledge or lore about a landscape or an element within the landscape, such as how a river has behaved over time. It follows a systematic methodology based on evidence, and incorporates culture, values, and Māori worldview.

By weaving this knowledge alongside conventional science, our decision makers will be able to better understand mātauranga as a form of evidence.

This will help them when it comes to making decisions on applications – whether it’s an approval, or otherwise, of a hazardous substance, a new biocontrol agent, or a marine consent.

Our framework has been developed in four phases: understanding, gathering, weaving, and enduring. We will continue to adapt our framework according to the findings of each phase. In the coming year, we will be sharing our aspirations for the framework with industry groups and will be refining the framework as new lessons emerge.

We will also continue working with Māori to help enhance their understandings of what to expect at hearings, and what may be helpful in preparing a submission on any application that comes before us.

"Similarly, we encourage anyone planning to submit an application or proposal to us to engage with Māori groups whose interests may be affected."