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$1.15 million in funding for Southland’s economy, ecology, and community

New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter Limited (NZAS) and Ngāi Tahu have awarded support to seven outstanding Southland community, cultural and business projects amounting to up to $1.15 million from its $2 million Community Development Fund.

The Fund, launched in April, meets a commitment made when Murihiku Rūnaka and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, NZAS and Rio Tinto signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in October 2022. The MOU outlined an enduring partnership between Mana Whenua and the smelter, based on three key pillars – remediation, energy development and community investment.

The Community Development Fund, which is administered jointly by Rio Tinto, NZAS, and Murihiku Rūnaka representatives, is providing funding for a Flagship Project and five Community Activator Projects for its first round.

In addition, a second Flagship Project, has received a conditional funding commitment subject to further community funding being confirmed.

Flagship Projects:

  • Te Tapu o Tāne – Pikiraurahi – Te Pa o Mahika Kai (Waituna)
  • Invercargill Community Connections Charitable Trust – Grace Street Project-

Community Activator Projects:

  • Southland Warm Homes Trust – Southland Warm Homes Project
  • Community Foundations of New Zealand – Southland Foundation
  • YMCA Charitable Trust – The Y Southland: Redevelopment and facility upgrades
  • Te Rūnaka o Awarua – Cultural Activator
  • Southland Business Chamber – Southland Innovation Project

Speaking of the announcement, Chris Blenkiron, Chief Executive of NZAS, said: “This first round of funding is a part of our plan to build on the contribution we’ve made to Southland over the past 50 years and one I hope we can continue to build on beyond 2024.

“I’ve been utterly inspired by all the applications we received, and I want to acknowledge Ngāi Tahu and Murihiku Rūnaka, whose mātauranga Māori and local knowledge were key to the Fund’s formation and the initial projects we will be funding,” he said.

Te Rūnaka o Awarua representative, Jacqui Caine, said: “Since the MOU was signed in 2022, Te Rūnaka o Awarua has been leading the partnership on behalf of Murihiku Rūnaka and has been actively engaging with NZAS on remediation, cultural considerations, and future intentions.

“There was a wide variety of applications for the Community Development Fund, evidencing the strong entrepreneurial and community spirit within Murihiku. We look forward to the contribution of the recipients will make to a vibrant Murihiku,” she said.

One of the two Flagship Project recipients – Te Tapu o Tāne – will receive funding to support the planting of 20 hectares of native plants around 50 hectares of new ponding at Waituna.

The Te Wai Parera Trust along with Te Rūnanga o Awarua and Te Whakamana te Waituna Partners have worked together to ensure that the wellbeing of the people, the land, the waters, the ecosystems and lifeforce of the Waituna, ki uta ki tai, is improved and maintained.

Reconnection to the Waituna lagoon and the ability to practice kaitiakitanga through mahinga kai is a great outcome for Ngāi Tahu. The planting of indigenous trees and plants helps with habitat reforestation which offsets carbon and supports positive climate change initiatives.

Through the retirement from traditional farming the Pikiraurahi property is now able to support a new hydrological regime for the lagoon that is based on ecological health and cultural wellbeing for the lagoon.

Dean Whaanga, Te Rūnanga o Awarua Chairperson, says of the funding: “We are very thankful for the support of NZAS to support this environmental restoration and cultural reconnection project. They are our neighbours, and we are excited at the outcomes this project will achieve with this kind of support.”

“We want to see the Pikiraurahi with a healthy ecosystem so there are habitats for native game bird, wading birds and fish species, and wetlands which in turn provide excellent tuna [eel] habitat and provide abundant mahinga kai gathering opportunities for local whānau,” said Te Tapu o Tāne Ltd Chief Executive, Jana Davis.

The Community Development Fund is available through to the end of 2024. In the event a long-term future for the smelter can be secured, this will be extended.


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