Dr Valance Smith with his 14-month-old son
Dr Valance Smith with his 14-month-old son

Dr Valance Smith is a new co-lead for one of the Ngā Rākau Taketake investments, Oranga. We had a chat to learn a bit more about him.

Growing up in Māngere, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Valance’s kuia were a huge influence on his connection to nature, teaching him the need to care for and respect his environment.

One in particular was a great inspiration.

“She was very much in tune with her natural environment and how to use the natural environment. How to be part of the reciprocity process of the natural environment in terms of you don’t just take.”

Valance is motivated to be in this line of work largely by his whānau (family), especially his 14-month-old son, and the desire to be a good father and good ancestor for his mokopuna (descendants). Coming originally from a teaching background, future proofing the environment for younger generations is a major driver for him.

To Valance, the Oranga investment is all about ensuring the wellbeing of our forests is protected, in a way that is “unashamedly indigenous” and positions mātauranga Māori as knowledge to help deal with contemporary problems.

A rich and varied academic background provides Valance with a strong footing for leading this investment, particularly his research on indigenizing agroecology in Aotearoa where he was able to provide a Māori perspective on the role that kaitiakitanga (guardianship) plays in protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity.

“If there’s any one people that knows anything about the native kauri of Aotearoa, it’s Māori, and it’s those Māori knowledge holders in particular. Those Māori knowledge holders have this knowledge because they grew up with it, with the teachings of their kaumātua (elders), their aunties and uncles, mothers and fathers.”

When first approached about being a co-lead for the Oranga investment, Valance was initially unsure, as this is a very new area for him. However, with support from the wider Oranga whānau, he decided to take the leap.

Valance is no stranger to dipping his toes into something completely new. Having written his thesis on Māori music, his expertise will provide a surprisingly useful skillset to his main Oranga project: Te Reo o te Waonui a Tāne (the language of the domain of Tāne). This project will focus on using soundscapes to measure the health of ngahere (forests), looking at what a healthy forest sounds like, and what sounds are missing from those that are unhealthy.

One main focus of this project will be around identifying waiata (songs), whakataukī (proverbs) and karakia (prayers) that contain certain sounds from nature. This will provide insight into not only our relationships with nature, but will also help to paint a picture of what the soundscape of these forests were like when these works were originally composed.

This project brings together Valance’s research background and his knowledge of mātauranga Māori with his passion for kaitiakitanga, to enable him to play a crucial role in safeguarding Aotearoa’s natural environment.

“We’re not going to be around forever, but what can we do to ensure that our natural environment, our kauri, sees past the 22nd century?”

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