Valuing Southland's waterways for whanau
“Respect and value them for whanau,” says Evelyn Cook, chairperson of Te Ao Mārama. These are the sentiments she wants to pass onto future generations when it comes to protecting and enjoying Southland’s waterways.
“I remember at the age of seven or so going whitebaiting with my father in the lower Mataura. Around about the same age I remember days out around Lumsden with family. And that is what the waterways were for us. Time to spend with family while exploring the river bank. These are the memories I value most.”
It was at this early age that valuing and respecting the waterways was ingrained in Evelyn. “I remember going to the same swimming spots and we would notice the changes that had taken place. We had to make sure it was still safe to swim there. It was moments like that when I realised how often our waterways change and the respect they must be given,” she says.
Evelyn is a strong advocate for working together to better our environment. Te Ao Mārama was established in 1996 and is the environmental arm of Kāi Tahu ki Murihiku. It’s an organisation Evelyn has been involved in since its inception. Environment Southland has a long, strong relationship with Te Ao Mārama, and more recently the two organisations have partnered on the People, Water and Land programme – Te Mana o te Tangata, te Wai, te Whenua.
This programme has provided the foundational work to understand and improve Southland’s water quality.
“All the work that has been done over the last three years has built on a good foundation. The region is now in a strong position to face the challenges of addressing environmental degradation over the next couple of decades as a community.
“In my life I have seen a shift, especially from those who don’t find themselves in rural places, on the value people hold for their waterways and how important it is to maintain and improve our water quality. Water is the lifeblood of our community. We are nothing without it.”
For Evelyn, going down to her favourite spot doesn’t have to have the prerequisite of sunny weather.
“The best day I had on the Mataura was actually a day where the rain was quite torrential. For me it was never about the weather, but having those moments, whether it be fishing or swimming, with family. When I think of those times I strongly remember the smells and the atmosphere that we played around in.
“Being aware of our impact on the waterways is the key to the future sustainability of them.”