Final project experience: “The Integration of Traditional Iwi Maaori and Western Science (Freshwater) Knowledge in the Co-management of the Lower Waikato River Catchment”

How did you come across the project / opportunity?

I came across my project through the IWC network while talking to Doctor Dana Kelly about my interest in invisible groups (such as Indigenous People) and how a multi-stakeholder approach could facilitate and improve any water resource. My passion for this topic is mainly due to two reasons. The first is my country, the Plurinational State of Bolivia (located in the heart of South America), its population consists of more than 60% indigenous people (INE 2001), in fact, the current president, Evo Morales is indigenous himself. In 2010, the Bolivian president reached out to the United Nations (UN) urging that access to clean water become a human right. The Bolivian resolution was voted in favor with more than 75% of countries enshrining the right, resulting in the UN recognised access to clean water and sanitation as a human right. Secondly, while studying the Master of Integrated Water Management, I came across wonderful examples about multi-stakeholder approach and the benefit of its use towards water management (i.e. the Volta River Basin case study) and felt inspired to pursue a final project that brought these two things together.


After all the necessary paper work was completed (to which the IWC team was of huge help and facilitate a lot of things), I saw myself starting my journey to New Zealand. The project was held in cooperation with the Waikato-Tainui College for Research and Development, to whom I’m grateful, for giving me the opportunity to connect with Maaori culture and environmental researchers. At the college I had a co-supervisor, Erina Watene-Rawiri (a Maaori researcher, whose contribution to Maaori environmental culture is invaluable) who helped me with networking, logistics and support for my project. At the same time I had the privilege to have Dr. Poh-Ling Tan as my project supervisor, whose valuable advice, guidance and persistent support helped me reach my objective.


How does it interface with IWRM?

The interface of my project with Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) relies on the fact that IWRM is an internationally recognised approach adopted by countries to achieve sustainability and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Informed by a thorough literature review, the project sought to understand the importance of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), the similarities and difference between TEK and western environmental knowledge, and the intimate interconnection Maaori have with the environment (matauranga Maaori). Using an IWRM framework within the context of co-management of the lower Waikato River catchment, the project assessed the integration of two forms of knowledge (Indigenous traditional and western science). The project analysed data derived from two different focus groups (Maaori and western scientists) using the four components of a receptivity model endorsed in the literature i.e.: awareness, association, acquisition and application. Additionally, by using conceptual models (illustrative and diagrammatic) it sought to explain the perception of both focus groups regarding the current state of the lower Waikato River catchment.

Finally, the report of the project discussed the benefits and challenges of integrating both forms of knowledge for the co-management of freshwater and the applicability of the integration. Furthermore, to bridge these two knowledge systems, three recommendations have been explored: 1) recognising the role of each other; 2) the need for a dialogue among cultures and; 3) the need to emphasize a cultural element in the IWRM approach.


What did you get out of it?

This experience has allowed me to develop my knowledge about tribe organization and the strategy with which they integrate economic and social well-being with their environmental holism in water management. The potential opportunities it created for my professional career were many, including: PhD opportunities, experience as a full-time researcher. Lastly as result of picking a topic I was passionate about and having the support of great supervisors and colleagues I received a high distinction for my final project, which gave me a Dean’s commendation for excellence and currently I’m an invited author for a book on lake Restoration in New Zealand.


Anything else you would like to share?

As a last advice to future mates, which are on the way to do their final project, I will just tell them to follow their heart, what they feel passion for. I found this the key to success.



Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas (INE) 2001, National Population and Housing Census 2001, Bolivia

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