The Cultural Health Index for Streams and Waterways is an exciting tool. Cultural Health Index results have the potential to create a meaningful connection between tangata whenua and statutory water managers (regional and district councils). Using the Cultural Health Index results for streams/sites of cultural significance or concern gives tangata whenua and water managers common ground for discussion and a better appreciation of one another’s perspectives. This is likely to see the development of joint initiatives that promote the participation of tangata whenua in water management decision making and a much desired improvement in culturally significant streams and waterways.
The CHI is entirely tangata whenua based – from the identification of traditional stream sites to the choice and assessment of indicators of stream status, mahinga kai and cultural stream health. It is a very versatile tool that can be applied to streams of all different sizes and types. It is also sensitive to changes in land development within a catchment.
Despite the lack of western scientific measures corresponding to stream site status or mahinga kai, cultural stream health can be compared to other non–cultural stream health measures currently in use. The cultural stream health measure is highly correlated with other widely used stream health measures such as the Macro Invertebrate Index (MCI). The cultural stream health measure is made up of perceptions that encompass the whole catchment. In contrast the MCI is based on samples of invertebrates from the riverbed (‘bugs on the bottom’). That these two very different measures produced similar results gives added confidence that the Cultural Health Index is a robust tool. Water managers have good reason to value CHI results provided by tangata whenua.
The CHI gives tangata whenua the opportunity to assess culturally significant stream sites, identify down graded stream sites, assign priorities for management or restoration and monitor changes and improvements. It is a powerful tool that also provides a way for tangata whenua to take part in water management in a meaningful way. Indeed the CHI is primarily intended to facilitate the participation of tangata whenua in resource management.
Throughout these guidelines reference has been made to tangata whenua using the CHI results from streams and rivers of traditional significance to work with resources managers. The combination of cultural information and resource managers’ statutory responsibilities can support cultural values to be recognised in a practical way, such as achieving an improvement in degraded streams of cultural importance. And finally, the CHI is proving to be a highly valued tool that builds strong, committed tangata whenua stream health teams. These teams have a vital role to play in the future improvement of cultural stream health and stream health in general.