Cyclone Gabrielle: ‘Powering-up’ the community response in Te Taitokerau

For our whānau in Te Taitokerau, extreme weather events such as flooding and drought are not uncommon.

Published: Rāmere, 10 Poutūterangi, 2023 | Friday, 10 March 2023

The first week of 2023 brought Cyclone Hale that affected many communities across the north. Heavy downpours of rain, power outages, slips and road closures disrupted people’s day-to-day lives.

But only weeks later Cyclone Gabrielle arrived with even more force, putting extra pressure on the region.

Initially Te Puni Kōkiri Whangarei office was closed for a few days and kaimahi worked from home or were involved with the response that was unfolding in their communities.  

Ihaka Lenden, Senior Advisor Māori Enterprise at Te Puni Kōkiri, is based in the Mid-Far North in Kerikeri and says there are always different layers in a response.

“The first phase is always whānau. Whānau respond first, then you see hapū and local support services combining to help, and then later down the track you start seeing the different external agencies coming to support.”

The difficulty for our rural and often isolated communities is that the awhi from the official response can take days to arrive.

Which is where the rich relationships and community connections our regional kaimahi have, come into play.

Te Taitokerau Team Leader, Elisa Kawiti, says Te Puni Kōkiri kaimahi connected early with the Department of Internal Affairs to ensure available funds were prioritised and allocated to marae, hapū and whānau in need.

“We were also able to use immediate initial funding from Te Puni Kōkiri to accelerate local responses,” Elisa says.

Te Puni Kōkiri regional kaimahi worked closely with the investment team at Te Tari Matua, spending hours writing up applications and manually processing them.

“We were able to do different drops to marae for things like generators, kai and gas bottles.”

It was the team’s ability to respond quickly, but also their personal connections and relationships that enabled them to know exactly what was needed for whānau.

The ongoing challenge for the region, and other parts of the motu, is that weather like Cyclone Gabrielle are becoming more frequent.

“Weather events like this happen repeatedly for our communities,” Elisa says.

“Our communities are fatigued but we have to figure out how to ‘go long’. How do we power-up our communities so they can survive 3-4 days before help comes?”

Te Puni Kōkiri Te Taitokerau Regional Director, Te Rōpu Poa, is leading an interagency regional response to ensure the demographics and regional settings provide equitable support to Māori in our most vulnerable communities.

Following the initial response, the Government announced a $15 million package support iwi and Māori-led recovery efforts.

The package is about supporting the ongoing response and need while also building resilience so marae, hapū and whānau are better prepared to respond to future weather events.

Read about the Cyclone Gabrielle Māori Communities Response fund.

Image Caption: Community response in Tai Tokerau at Kaka Porowini Marae, which opened for those needing shelter and kai during Cyclone Gabrielle including our homeless whānau. Te Puni Kōkiri supported this kaupapa with $5k of initial funding. Back:  Auriole Ruka, Janice & Barry Caldwell. Front:  Mariameno Kapa-Kingi, Ralph Ruka, Korotangi Kapa-Kingi