Public Sector Heroes and Heroines

Special Feature: New leaders in the Public Sector

Enhancing Te Taiao

Te Papa Atawhai has presented its first ever Matariki Awards, celebrating staff who make an extraordinary contribution towards enhancing DOC’s role as a Te Tiriti o Waitangi partner. Humble, courageous, and inclusive were words used to describe joint winners, Jeff Milham and Martin Rodd. Kathy Ombler went to meet them.

Te Papa Atawhai’s Matariki Awards were introduced to recognise the first Matariki public holiday, says Huia Lloyd, Director, Kāhui Kaupapa Atawhai.

“The awards will be an annual celebration of staff who demonstrate attributes relevant to the nine stars in the Matariki cluster. They will recognise staff who work to enhance te taiao, the environment that’s around us and sustains us, and Papatūānuku Thrives – the Purpose of Te Papa Atawhai. The awards will become one of the ways we recognise our people who enable mana whenua aspirations in their taiao spaces and will inspire others by sharing their stories.”

Both Jeff and Martin were equally deserving, and the judging panel could not choose a single winner, says Huia.

Facing Challenges

Jeff Milham, operations manager for Tauranga District, has been with Te Papa Atawhai since 2009.

“When he became operations manager, in 2016, Jeff faced many systemic and antiquated challenges and walked into poor iwi relationships,” says Huia.

“He has since nurtured genuine relationships with over thirty-five iwi, hapū and whānau. His personal journey, through study, waananga, noho marae, and taking on a kaikōrero role, has been an exemplar for all his staff.

“The iwi from his region have also recognised this, acknowledging his learning journey and commitment by inviting him to speak on the paepae. This is an honoured invitation, not privileged to many.”

Jeff says it was being challenged by Tauranga Moana hapū Pirirākau, who wanted an improved relationship with Te Papa Atawhai, that got him thinking about how to give effect to Te Tiriti through his role.

“My driving passion now is improving DOC’s role as a Tiriti partner with whānau, hapū, and iwi – to understand, support, and enable mana whenua aspirations in their taiao spaces, in a co-decision-making environment.”

Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore tō tātou waka e ū ki uta.

Don’t paddle out of unison, or our canoe will never reach the shore.

“I find looking to whakataukī for direction is important, and this whakataukī embodies the new direction our Tauranga District has taken.

“We are prioritising relationships and supporting whānau, hapū, and iwi to realise their rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga of te taiao so that we can paddle forward as true Tiriti partners.”

The district has developed a strategy called Te Ara ki Mua / The Way Forward to reflect this change. “If our destination is an island filled with healthy lands, water, and species, then we need a strong waka, well-equipped kaimahi, or workers, and knowledgeable navigators to get us there. Te Papa Atawhai cannot paddle forward without the trust and knowledge of tangata whenua.”

Expanding native restoration programmes across the district, while at the same time enabling tangata whenua to train and participate in conservation, has been part of this new direction. Recent projects under Jobs for Nature funding have helped build environmental capacity and capability within iwi and hapū. These have been particularly rewarding for Jeff.

“While I have been blessed in my work and my personal journey of understanding te ao Māori and taiao, the most rewarding experiences have occurred recently when a huge number of kaimahi have started in new roles working for their own hapū or iwi.

“Seeing their powerful and emotional moments of reconnection has been special. The kaimahi have been able to reconnect to their whenua and people, protect sacred places in their rohe, and freely integrate mātauranga Māori into the monitoring, management, and kaitiakitanga of their whenua.”

Jeff admits his personal journey, including a commitment to learning te reo, hasn’t always been easy, requiring hours of study along with the courage to step well out of his comfort zone.

“My desire to learn te reo Māori and better understand te ao Māori ignited in 2015. It was at this point when I really began to understand how to give effect to Te Tiriti through my role, and it was a role that we as DOC were not doing well at that time.

“The learning has made a massive difference to my work and has helped me to drive the changes needed.”

Jeff says the journey has been profoundly rewarding. “I am constantly surrounded by te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, kaupapa Māori, and of course tāngata Māori. It has been life changing for me and my whānau. It has also been mind blowing to receive the level of support, encouragement, and aroha along the way – especially from tāngata whenua and close work mates.”

Jeff acknowledges Carlton Bidois (Pirirākau, Ngāti Ranginui) as being a huge influence and supporter throughout his journey.

From the start, I recognised Jeff’s humility and courage, says Carlton. “I knew early on Jeff was the right person to take on the challenge of not only a renewed Tiriti-based relationship with iwi and hapū but also a true Tiriti partnership between the department and Māori.

“His leadership in that partnership has enabled the co-decision-making space, critical to the co-management and kaitiakitanga for our people and their aspirations for the conservation estate. I am proud to have been part of his rangatira journey.”

Building Alliances

The Matariki Award co-recipient Martin Rodd, Nelson-based Director, Partnerships, has a passion for connecting people to work and keeping them together to achieve collective vision, says Huia.

“Martin demonstrates leadership, vision, and passion in working with others to achieve conservation. He builds trusting relationships with people, and they sense his genuine ngākau, heartfelt intent. Martin inspires many people to look beyond their day-to-day work and realise that a larger vision is achievable.”

Key to Martin’s award has been his leadership in the establishment of major alliances, such as the Kotahitanga mō te Taiao Alliance, established in 2017. This reaches across Te Tau Ihi (the top of the South Island), encompassing seven iwi plus regional and local councils, DOC, and others, all working as one to achieve environmental gains.

Chris Hickford, DOC Partnerships Manager, co-nominated Martin for the Matariki Award. He said Martin’s idea was simple: to build a coalition of the willing and bring together collective expertise to work towards a shared vision for the region.

“To achieve this, Martin, who now co-chairs the Alliance, showed resilience and leadership in building and maintaining relationships, inspiring trust, and developing a strong sense of shared purpose across a diverse group.”

In pragmatic terms, the Alliance has delivered or influenced more than $24 million of funding for projects in the upper South Island, including Jobs for Nature and Ngā Awa (DOC’s river restoration programme). It has also attracted support from international partner The Nature Conservancy.

Alliance co-chair and Te Rūngunga o Ngāti Kuia general manager, David Johnston, says Martin promoted a very inclusive leadership style. “Martin’s ability to think big over the longer term and his action-oriented drive has helped us to work collaboratively and get things done.”

The Kotahitanga mō te Taiao model has set the foundation for similar alliances and partnerships around New Zealand, including Kotahitanga ki te Uru on the Tai Poutini West Coast, the Chatham Islands Regional Alliance, and Te Roopu Taiao in Te tai Rawhiti. 

Chris Hickford says the strategic partnerships that Martin leads is all about pushing traditional and often self-imposed boundaries to realise new conservation opportunities.

“Many folk find this a challenging and sometimes uncomfortable space to think and work in, but Martin has a unique ability to successfully bring people together to facilitate this and to achieve collaborative results at a regional scale. He’s also built a strong team, style, and operating culture to enable us to successfully lead and deliver this work within DOC.”

Martin, who has been with DOC for twenty-seven years, credits an early exchange with philanthropists and conservationists Neil and Annette Plowman for his inspiration.

“As an area manager in 2010, I was hosting the couple in Abel Tasman National Park. In one remarkable conversation, my view of how we manage te taiao changed. When asked what we were seeking to achieve in the park, I was coached not to start my conversation with the constraints, but to start with the outcomes that we seek to achieve. This has stuck with me and drives how I think today.”

There was a similar light-bulb moment when it came to embracing mātauranga Māori and working alongside iwi.

“Inspired by my experience in the Abel Tasman, I arranged a hui with iwi and councils from across Te Tau Ihu to explore what it would look like if we were to work together to define the desired outcomes for Te Taiao.

“I got to slide two of my presentation when Hemi Toia, Te Rūngunga o Ngāti Rārua Chief Executive Officer, stopped me. He said: stop selling, we are in, but you need to think big. We need to be thinking across the entire Te Tau Ihu.”

From that moment, the Kotahitanga mō te Taiao Alliance concept was formed and, for me, the journey has been transformational for how we work across the landscape. The different lens and expertise that each entity brings to the table is amazing; when we weave these together through co-design, the outcomes are exceptional.

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei.

Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain.