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Sustaining ourselves, our relationships, and our environment

Written by Mat Stone, Director Animal and Animal Products at Ministry for Primary Industries

I love the flight from Wellington to Christchurch. You get a bird’s eye view of the map of my heart, the most beautiful and dramatic geography Aotearoa New Zealand offers, connecting the two places that I belong to, that I am privileged to call my turangawaewae. Tena koe Maungatere, ka matike ki ngā maunga o Ngā Tiritiri o te Moana. Tena kourua te awa Rakahuri me Waimakariri, ka pari te wai ki runga ngā kōhatu ki Waikuku ki Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Tena koe Rangiora, i tipu ake ana ahau. Tena koutou Ngai Tahu, nga kaitiaki o te whenua, ko te noho rangapū i waenganui i a Pākeha me Māori ki Aotearoa.

My close connections with Canterbury have caused fear and sadness since the dramatic upheavals of September 2010 and February 2011. I have witnessed the impact on its people, landscape and buildings, and wondered if it will ever be the same. Now I know – it won’t be. The recovery of Christchurch is being carefully guided through a challenging process of community engagement, co-designing a city of the future, which knows where it stands, honours its history and is for its people. Don Miskell and Rob Kerr shared the vision with us during a walking tour of the inner city and gave me hope. Christchurch will be a city of courtyards, squares and lanes, the public realm and the natural landscape connected and in harmony. There is still so much to do, but it is taking shape. Kia kaha Christchurch, mahi tahi.

Ngai Tahu knows the commitment, determination and vision that rebuilding requires. Hana O’Regan shared the history and the future with us. Remembering. Knowing why. Keeping a crystal clear focus on purpose. Voices from the past, speaking to the future. Knowing what was at stake during 150 years of continuous petitioning the Crown to honour the Tiriti. It is our turn to honour this longstanding dedication to the survival of the iwi and its tikanga. Creating a sustainable commercial portfolio of enterprises that serves the people of Ngai Tahu and manuhiri. This story also inspires hope at a time of deep need for that precious renewable resource.

From Kimihia Research Centre, PGG Wrightson, at Lincoln, we travelled a familiar road north to Hamner Springs, greeting my awa, my maunga, and my moana as we passed. The parched landscape of North Canterbury, just a deceiving thin veneer of grass belying the soil below in deep moisture deficit, providing a vivid connection between the theme from our previous session – the economy and primary industries – and that for this retreat, sustainability.

As always, we must look within first to understand our relationships, with ourselves, our fellow humans, the other beings that we share this world with and the ecosystems that sustain us. Stories of love, pain and ultimately triumph that shape us. Experiences that always feel so deeply part of our true selves but are usually hidden from those that we interact with every day. What a gift to hear these stories, to learn to articulate our deepest thoughts, to listen with love and understanding, to know each other and ourselves better.

And then we look outward. We go to nature, identify and acknowledge the wairua, and connect. On a beautiful winter day, in the forest, amongst the hills, beside the streams, we observe a rock, a tree, a river, truly seeing it. They become part of us, and we part of them. Deep wisdom reveals itself to us from this most simple act.

Be calm.

Be strong.

Be steadfast.

Know your purpose.

Be at one with yourself, and your surroundings.

You and me, we are the same.

I don’t mean alike.

I mean as one, we, us, the same thing.

We all are.

Live within that truth, each and every moment.

We have fun, of course. Warm up shapes and sounds. The inter-galactic court. Making pizza. Morning exercise in beautiful mountain surrounds. Coffee chats. Shopping. Soaking in mineral pools. Laughing together.

On the bus ride home, I restrain the urge to take the microphone again to point out the limestone cliffs through Weka Pass that we gave names to as children and would compete to identify first during car trips north. I look around and see the bus is already buzzing with conversation. Always a good sign. No need to break the flow. I sense we are feeling so many things, disrupted and challenged, energised and inspired, connected with our companions on this journey, and in awe of the wisdom and insight shared by our guides.

I am learning to see more clearly. Leadership is an authentic act of love that creates hope. The world needs hope. The world needs our leadership.