The Ngāti Tuwharetoa ki Kawerau iwi places great significance on Te Kete Poutama, an area that encompasses Lake Rotoitipaku near Kawerau, because it has been integral to their economic, cultural, spiritual and social wellbeing for generations. Tasman Pulp and Paper, now Norske Skog Tasman Ltd., leased the area for dumping waste in 1971 and it became the primary disposal site for solid paper-mill waste. Now Lake Rotoitipaku no longer exists – it’s filled with more than 600,000m3 of toxic material. In 2013 the dumping will stop and the land will return to its trustees.
Norske commissioned environmental assessments to determine the magnitude of contamination, the potential environmental hazards and possible restoration options. These reports provided technical information, but missed the trustees’ major issue of how to restore the mauri to Te Kete Poutama. The trustees approached Dr Daniel Hikuroa to work with them to better understand the science and integrate it with mātauranga (Māori knowledge), in the hope that it would reveal a pathway to restore the area’s mauri. Mauri is a universal concept in Māori thinking; it is the physical life principle; ability for air, water or soil to sustain life; the force that penetrates all things to bind and knit them together.