Cultural Monitoring

Cultural monitoring encompasses a holistic approach that acknowledges the profound spiritual, historical, and cultural connections that Māori have with the environment. In freshwaters, cultural monitoring involves the ongoing observation, assessment, and preservation of significant cultural sites, values, and practices, such as mahinga kai, associated with these waterways.

Cultural monitoring involves the active participation of local iwi/hapū who often utilise scientific tools alongside their mātauranga to monitor waterways. Methods include regular site visits, consultation with local knowledge holders, ecological surveys, and the integration of traditional wisdom into conservation and restoration strategies, ensuring a holistic approach that honours both environmental and cultural values.

The NPS-FM 2020 places particular emphasis on tangata whenua involvement in freshwater management, including the assessment of Māori values and cultural monitoring. Regional councils have a responsibility to include mātauranga Māori-based measures in implementing the NPS-FM.

Meanwhile, more and more iwi/hapū are undertaking cultural monitoring which is facilitating an increasing engagement in freshwater governance and management. Our research aimed to support this process.

Two case studies explored and developed cultural monitoring approaches that can be applied to detect freshwater improvement. These case studies were led by local iwi researchers and tangata tiaki.

Pā Tuna ki Pokaiwhenua

Led by Ngāti Raukawa, this project focused on rejuvenating traditional Raukawa mahinga kai practices to monitor freshwaters within the Pokaiwhenua catchment.  

The project involves integrating both science and mātauranga Raukawa to inform better practice monitoring methods. The Pokaiwhenua is a tributary of the Waikato River.

The research included a review of science reports outlining the status of tuna/ eel populations and links with waterway health, as well as a review of Raukawa literature outlining historical practice. The reestablishment of a Pā Tuna site on the Pokaiwhenua was initiated as part of a monitoring plan.

The Pā Tuna project monitoring plan draws on Te Ārohirohi a Raukawa (Raukawa’s freshwater assessment tool) which guides kaitiaki on how to conduct fresh water assessment initiatives as aligned with Raukawa tikanga, values and philosophies.

Ngāti Raukawa implementing Pā Tuna in the Pokaiwhenua

Read the full report here -  Pā Tuna ki Pokaiwhenua Project

Te Hoiere Project

Led by Ngāti Kuia, this project aimed to develop a cultural monitoring framework to establish a baseline and detect changes overtime in Te Hoiere catchment.

This project aimed to develop a cultural monitoring framework to establish a baseline and detect changes over time in Te Hoiere catchment. The research, and related activities, provide Ngāti Kuia with new tools to monitor freshwater restoration outcomes in the catchment.

The Te Hoiere Project included place-based wānanga to

  • learn and trial existing cultural monitoring approaches applied elsewhere across the motu to identify what resonated with Ngāti Kuia foundations and aspirations,
  • develop and refine a unique Ngāti Kuia cultural monitoring tool
  • identify key sites to assess restoration outcomes
  • train tangata tiaki in the application of the tool

The resulting Te Kupenga ā Kuia Mauri Assessment and Monitoring Tool is embedded with Ngātikuiatanga. Rather than simply looking at physical changes to the environment, it also considers the cultural and spiritual significance of these changes.

The Project Team piloting the draft cultural health indicator at Te Hoiere Awa sites Kahikatea Flat & Totara Flat

Read the full report here - Te Kupenga ā Kuia Mauri Assessment and Monitoring Tool





As part of this research, Joanne Clapcott and Roland Eveleens have reviewed public reports of cultural monitoring to identify the scientific attributes that support the cultural monitoring frameworks applied to freshwater and estuarine environments in Aotearoa.

Read the full report here - Emerging themes and attributes in freshwater cultural monitoring in Aotearoa New Zealand
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Some of the many cultural monitoring frameworks in Aotearoa include:

  • Cultural Health Index (CHI)
  • Cultural Flow Preference assessments,
  • the Mauri Compass,
  • State of the Takiwā assessments, and
  • Taonga species monitoring.

These frameworks often weave science attributes into mātauranga Māori-based assessments to support culturally based indicators. Supporting science attributes included:

  • Water quality (nutrients, temperature, dissolved oxygen)
  • Habitat assessment (sediment, substrate, erosion)
  • Ecologicalvariables (algae/plants, invertebrates, fish)

Monitoring was carried out by iwi, hapū, and rūnanga, and consistently followed a process of wider iwi/hapū engagement prior to and following monitoring.

  • Cultural monitoring assessments are part of a much broader kaupapa around revitalising matāuranga Māori and enabling tangata whenua to engage with their own whenua and cultural knowledge.
  • Even though support from technical experts and the inclusion of science attributes into mātauranga Māori-based assessments was already widespread, the enhancement of such support could better support the assessment of remediation actions.