Regional | Te Whanganui-a-Tara

Taranaki Whānui cleans up urupā to make it plastic-free with lots of native trees

Taranaki Whānui and the Wellington City Council are leading a project to create the first plastic-free urupā in Wellington.

They have planted 500 species of native plants and aim to restore the land and water bodies that are littered with plastic.

Despite it being the resting place for the dead, the people involved want to revitalise the land and waterways.

Hana Buchanan of Taranaki Whānui descent says the voluntary effort of those involved with the planting process over the weekend at Opau Urupā in Mākara is something to help sustain the earth for future generations.

“Ko te mahi i te rā nei, te w’akaora anō i tēnei w’enua ki ngā tupu, ki ngā rākau, kia w’akareia te w’enua, kia kākā'utia a Papatūānuku anō. Ko te mahi i te rā nei, ko te w’akatō rākau, w’akatō tupu, ā tōna wā, ā tōna wā, ko te ā'ua o te urupā nei ka hoki ki te ā'ua taketake.”

(The goal of today is to revitalise this land with plants, trees to adorn the land and to again clothe Papatūānuku. What we’re doing today is planting trees, plants and in time the appearance of this cemetery will be like its traditional self.)

Terese McLeod of Taranaki Whānui has spearheaded this project and recalls noticing plastic flooding streams in Wellington.

She says the thought dawned on her to return Māori areas of significance to being plastic-free.

“The plastic scientists we were working with said they’re blowing in from Karori Cemetery in Wellington, the second largest cemetery in New Zealand. So I thought wow, before I go up there and start having conversations about rethinking plastic in that space, I want my family, my iwi and my hapū to lead the way in this kaupapa.”

Opau urupā is in Mākara and is a plot of land that was returned to Te Āti Awa Taranaki Whānui in 2009. Now it is also home to the nation’s national bird.

The founder and project lead for the Capital Kiwi Project, Paul Ward, was also at the voluntary planting project over the weekend and says the plastic-free environment helps more than just the earth, instead all of its species.

“While there’s been a huge amount of mahi that’s gone into that return, there’s also a duty, guardianship that we all have.

“That relates really nicely to this kaupapa, which is respecting our hills and respecting the things that live on them. When I think of a kiwi prospecting out here and putting its ngutu into ground, I want it eating worms, not plastic.”

But for McLeod making urupā plastic-free has not been an easy road.

“Naively I went home and suggested to my whānau, we should become a plastic-free urupā because it does this, that and the other. That started a war. Actually quite a bitter, aggressive war between some of my relations, my cousins in particular, who were really angry at me suggesting such a thing and I didn’t understand their point of view. So, I really had to rethink this, approach it in different layers and ways to get the message across.”