In 2015 Shannon Te Huia established Pūniu River Care, an iwi-based initiative that aims to improve water quality and biodiversity by planting trees along the banks of the 60-kilometre-long Pūniu River in the Waikato region. The organisation is completely rooted in te ao Māori, and alongside delivering solid, quantifiable results for environmental indicators, it has an equally strong focus on cultural, academic and vocational training: a holistic approach that improves the health and wellbeing of the environment as well as the strength, capacity and mana of its people.
To begin, Pūniu River Care initiated a specialist horticultural course through Wintec so that local people could become experts in native plants. It now has more than 30 local people running a 2.5-hectare marae-based nursery that produces 500,000 plants each year. Hundreds more people have learnt from their holistic model at wānanga, community events and marae open days, where Shannon and the team openly share their knowledge and actively help other organisations become established. Pūniu River Care collaborates with a diverse range of organisations, including the Department of Corrections prisoner training programmes, schools, iwi, community groups and research organisations.