By Nia Tero
Indigenous peoples uphold many of the planet’s healthiest ecosystems, rich in biodiversity and essential to the security of global food production, fresh water, and ultimately, the Earth’s climate. At Nia Tero we believe that the peoples who call these places home are the best guardians of their cultures’ vital birthplaces. Thus oceans, and especially Pasifika and the cultures that uphold these waters, are of utmost importance to Nia Tero—and fundamental to our existence. Nia Tero fully supports the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and all our actions are guided by it. Nia Tero is proud to be a member of IFIP and welcomes opportunities to partner with other funders in support of Indigenous peoples.
Nia Tero was established in 2017 to respond to Indigenous peoples’ calls for recognition, partnership and support. Nia Tero works alongside Indigenous peoples working to uphold the health of their territories and cultures. To achieve this mission, we are building a polycultural organization, where half our board of directors is Indigenous, most of our advisory council is Indigenous, and our staff bring Indigenous and other lived experiences. We view this diversity as a source of strength as an organization committed to self-determination and an inclusive culture guided by Indigenous wisdom, practices and protocols.
Over the next decade, Nia Tero’s strategy is focused on two interrelated aspirations that contribute to Indigenous guardianship of territory enabled everywhere possible on Earth. Nia Tero is working to uphold a network of place-anchored partnerships with Indigenous peoples who care for territories with an outsized impact on the well-being of humanity and Earth. Alongside this, we are engaging partners within and beyond this network to expand recognition and support for Indigenous guardianship worldwide.
Specifically, Nia Tero provides support to Indigenous peoples to secure guardianship of territory through grant-making, convening, facilitation, fundraising and direct technical support to assist self-determined governance, cultural vitality, direct territorial defense, legal and financial representation, and in building strong organizations. In addition to our place-anchored partnerships, we invest in storytelling to amplify the importance of equitable partnership with Indigenous peoples as a way of addressing some of the great socio-environmental/cultural challenges of our time, and we provide support to strengthen policy frameworks, security, cultural practices and self-governance of Indigenous peoples.
Nia Tero is committed to working alongside Indigenous peoples in geographies central to the well-being of all humanity. Our initial regions include the Pacific Islands, Amazonia, and the Boreal Forests of Canada, where we work with Indigenous peoples who share a collective territory and have strong governance systems in place to protect their homelands and waters. In service to Sustainable Development Goal 14, “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,” Nia Tero is partnering closely with Indigenous peoples of Pasifika.
In 2020, Nia Tero launched its Pasifika strategy to strengthen Indigenous guardianship of Islands and Ocean, and to elevate the influence of Pasifika Identity in shaping policy and action on guardianship. In the Cook Islands, for instance, Nia Tero’s efforts aim to support work toward strengthening the Marae Moana whole marine domain protected area by reconnecting youth with Maori values and practice, and by supporting Maori design of customary and government co-management.
Despite progress towards securing the 50-nautical mile customary zones around all islands, there is concern across the region around the advance of deep seabed mining exploration. In response, Nia Tero partners – Kōrero o te ‘Ōrau (KOTO), Te Ipukarea Society (TIS), and Cook Islands Voyaging Society (CIVS) – have embarked on a unique collaboration. Together they are undertaking the Tāua e Moana voyage, enabling ocean health awareness and knowledge-sharing throughout the Pa ‘Enua (outer islands), beginning with a 50-day journey to the northern group that was launched in June. The southern group voyages will take place later this year. The voyage name, Tāua e Moana, describes the kin-based relationship that Indigenous Cook Islanders have with the ocean. On each island, the crew have been sharing and recording stories of ocean sustainability and voyaging histories.
The voyage is also facilitating relevant research, with the sailing vaka collecting microplastics samples from the ocean. KOTO is doing coral sampling, checking for taramea (the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish), and sharing its ‘Ātui’anga ki te Tango (“Immersing our people in Māori values and culture to foster good stewardship of our environment”) programme. TIS is doing bird and butterfly research and promoting its Maine Mura (Girls with Dignity) project. In addition, KOTO and TIS are running ocean health awareness consultations with all communities visited, including providing information on issues associated with fisheries and deep seabed mining.
As a young boy raised on Rarotonga in a family where fishing for food was normal practice, Teina Rongo’s playground was the reef. In 2011, Teina became the first Cook Islander to achieve a doctorate in Marine Biology. Today, Dr. Rongo is the Chairperson of Kōrero o te ‘Ōrau (KOTO). Teina believes that his upbringing was key to building a lifelong appreciation for the environment and has been promoting the importance of connecting youth with place through the ‘Ātui’anga ki te Tango program. The program takes a ridge-to-reef approach, highlighting how the land and sea are connected, and provides training opportunities such as scuba diving, traditional fishing practices, scientific marine surveys, and traditional voyaging to young Cook Islanders. The goal is to build an army of ecowarriors connected to their Indigenous homelands to effectively protect these places. Dr. Rongo is currently on the Tāua e Moana voyage, along with four Ātui’anga ki te Tango program youth who are having life-changing experiences. To learn more: https://youtu.be/jXmdB6hQUZo