The Kauri Ora and Myrtle Ora community meetings are hui ā-ipurangi (virtual meetings) open to the general public, where regional councils and researchers in their respective spaces give updates on operations and on the science on these two pathogens. Additionally, te marea (the general public) are invited to share their undertakings in ngahere ora (forest health). Resources are shared, questions are posed, and connections are made all across Aotearoa. For the September hui, the Kauri Ora platform uplifted a special exhibition showcasing the knowledge and artistry of some of our youngest environmental kaitiaki (guardians).

Ariane Craig-Smith, project co-ordinator for Toitū te Nghere: Art in Schools for Forest Health, is an expert weaver. But rather than working with harakeke fronds, her and her team are bringing together ecological sciences, mātauranga Māori, and arts education.

For the team, teaching the big picture of forest health means offering students more than one access point in understanding the roles they can play in ngahere ora. “These different ways of knowing support each other to help us understand about our forest ecologies,” says Ariane.

Te Ao Māori and ecological sciences already centre the relationship between people and te taiao (the natural world) — in Toitū te Ngahere, Ariane aims to strengthen the part that arts educations plays in the interweave.

A special outcome of Toitū te Nghere has been an exhibition held at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery, featuring work created by students in years five and six at Konini Primary School in Glen Eden, and Kauri Park School in Beachhaven.

Dr Marie McEntee, co-lead for Mobilising For Action, joined September’s Kauri Ora community meeting from Kauri Park School. Four students – Lola, Bryn, Annabelle and Felix – took time away from their morning tea break to speak about their experiences engaging with Toitū te Nghere.

“I thought it was quite amazing that people were able to organise this with the school,” said Bryn, of the screen printing exhibited at the Te Uru exhibition. “I really enjoyed myself.”

Artist Charlotte Graham (Ngāti Mahuta) interwove stories throughout her classes with Bryn and their classmates, while they worked on their screen prints.

“It was a great way to express through our artwork the things that we need to change.”

Felix, Kauri Park School

There’s a virtual reality (VR) experience in store for the students who weren’t able to make the trip to Te Uru while the exhibition was showing, said Marie. A 3D video is being produced, along with 360° photos. The tamariki will be able to have a play with VR glasses, enabling all students to see their work exhibited in Titirangi.

“Te Uru gallery is based in West Auckland,” added Mobilising for Action co-lead Mark Harvey. “It has students from a range of cross sections coming in. This exhibition has helped with further wānanga (learning) in schools around these topics. There have been hundreds of kids turn up to this exhibition. The work that [Lola, Bryn, Annabelle and Felix] have done has been a huge inspiration out there. That’s a goal of ours, to get wider community connections in this way.”

Student investigations circle around the consequences of two plant pathogens infiltrating our treasured forest communities: kauri dieback (KDB) caused by Phytopthora agathidicida, and the fungal disease myrtle rust (MR), Austropucinia psidii.

Due to New Zealand’s unique natural history, local rangatahi (young people) have strong understandings of the negative impacts of invasive organisms. Those strengths are conveyed in their work as they strive for ways to promote positive social and ecological action in their communities, sharing messages of concern, hope and connection with ngahere ora.

Marie wants rangatahi to see themselves as agents of change and to have an awareness that they can be a healthy part of the ecosystem.

“I think it’s important because if we didn’t do this kind of stuff there wouldn’t be any change to the world.”

Felix, Kauri Park School

Following the Toitū te Nghere presentation, Kim Parker from Waikato Regional Council talked “gamification” and the roles VR can play in ngahere ora education. She also shared pictures of a breath-taking Wētā Workshop diorama showing the vast root zones of kauri (Agathis australis).

Future Kauri Ora and Myrtle Ora community meetings are scheduled on 22 November and 4 October respectively. To get involved, register your interest by following this link for kauri and this link for myrtle.

Toitū te Ngahere is funded through the Ngā Rakau Taketake research theme Mobilising for Action, in partnership with The University of Auckland.

Kerry Donovan Brown

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