When Yvonne Taura was young, becoming a scientist was far from her ideal career path.
“I shied away from anything to do with science, physics, or mathematics as the room was always filled with boys – and, to be honest, it was all a little intimidating.”
She moved towards the creative arts but, at the same time, was drawn to the environment.
Then, at the age of 21, in the middle of an identity crisis, she took refuge in Pākā (Turangi) along the banks of Taupō moana, to spend time with her whangai parents, the aunt and uncle she grew up with.
Sent to her kaumātua who lived at the southern end of the lake, she saw the surrounding environment through his eyes and, for the first time, learned about the atua (gods) who governed the different environmental domains of repo (wetlands), awa, moana and ngahere (forest).
“My kaumātua talked of the rich culture handed down by our tūpuna, of karakia, pūrākau (mythical stories), waiata and the concept of kaitiakitanga.
And without having earlier knowledge of her Māoritanga, Taura understood everything her kaumātua talked about.
“On this day I decided I had to discover more.”
She returned home and immersed herself in her culture, on the marae and in te reo, while learning science principles and the concepts of chemistry and biology.
“Learning both knowledge systems simultaneously came quite easily to me, as if I was always meant to be on this path. It didn’t seem at all intimidating, and my initial thoughts of science being male dominated wasn’t an issue anymore.
“Throughout my journey, both discovering the essence of being a wahine Māori and becoming a freshwater ecologist, I have had some amazing mentors, all contributed to guiding and steering me in the right direction.
Fast forward, a decade or so, Taura is a kairangahau (researcher) for one of New Zealand’s leading Crown Research Institutes in a small but dynamic kairangahau Māori rōpū, predominantly all wahine Māori.
“I have the privilege of working with a team of intelligent and passionate mana wahine, who I am in awe of, observing their amazing talents and strengths in their work. We share similar ideals – to look after our environment through the lens of our atua and tūpuna. We collaborate with iwi and hapū in rangahau to support the development of mātauranga Māori to manage their natural resources.”
The difference between many scientists working in the conventional realm, says Taura, is that kairangahau Māori take a holistic approach to their research.
“That day of standing on the whānau farm, gazing at the repo on the edges of our moana tūpuna (ancestral lake), hearing the rush of our awa tūpuna (ancestral river) beside it, and flanked behind us by our maunga tūpuna, changed my course of direction almost instantly.
“I learned conventional science and became a freshwater ecologist, but most importantly I draw upon the mātauranga of iwi and hapū which plays the most crucial role in all of my rangahau.”
– Yvonne Taura (Ngāiterangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Uenuku, Ngāti Hauā) is a freshwater scientist and kairangahau Māori (Māori researcher) at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. She is completing her PhD at the University of Waikato. Her research focuses on exploring ways of empowering iwi and hapū to use mātauranga Māori-centred science tools and frameworks to enact their kaitiakitanga responsibilities.