What is Next? Improved Integration of Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Concerns in Infrastructure Delivery I Say

As I mentioned in my previous blog post I was particularly interested and moved by one of the excellent presentations given at the recent ISCA Annual Conference. This presentation, delivered by Liz Root , Principal Sustainability Advisor, Auckland Transport and Berenize Peita, Ngāti Te Ata WaiohuaMana Whenua Representative, was an outline of the initial phases of the City Rail Link (CRL) project in Auckland, New Zealand, and how it’s being delivered in a sustainable fashion.

The thing that struck me most significantly in this presentation was Berenize’s description of the level of engagement and genuine integration of Mana Whenua concerns into the CRL project.

The Mana Whenua, whom Berenize was representing at the conference, were apparently not happy with the initial suggestion of application of the ISCA Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) framework. A framework with good intentions, no doubt about that, but ostensibly Australian in focus with cultural heritage considerations limited to one particular element of the tool. Not something that the Mana Whenua representatives were comfortable with, and quite rightly so.

The Auckland Transport team worked very closely with Mana Whenua to adapt the IS framework to not just the broader New Zealand cultural context, but to particularly align with that of the Auckland area (Tamaki Makaurau). 

There was a palpable sense of unfeigned pride and genuine ownership of the process and outcomes that Berenize described as she took us through the integration of Mana Whenua needs within the CRL project. This is what I found particularly moving. 

And not only that and the captivating way Berenize delivered her presentation, but also in the fact that this should absolutely be situation normal in infrastructure delivery, not only in New Zealand, but here in Australia too! This approach shouldn’t have to be a “special feature” or leading edge in infrastructure delivery.

I was also really struck with the serious intentions (and follow through) of Auckland Transport to work closely with Auckland area Mana Whenua from the outset, and full integration of needs and concerns into the project design and delivery. 

This will manifest in physical representation of Māori designs into station architecture, selection of local and culturally important materials, and creation of sense of place that all peoples can feel connected to. It has also manifested in the deep integration of Māori considerations, not only in design but also into construction through social procurement engaging Mana Whenua and key environmental aspects such as care for the land, care for water, care for animals and care for peace and quiet.
Here in Australia, having worked with some of the Registered Aboriginal Parties in Victoria myself, it often seems as if Indigenous cultural heritage and Indigenous needs are somewhere near the end of the metaphorical pipeline in project planning and development processes. Often times, at the risk of sounding controversial, potentially to just tick a box. This is a simplified view, I’m more than sure, and I’m equally sure there are others more qualified and experienced to comment on this and how Indigenous interests can be better considered and integrated into infrastructure planning and delivery. However, as a fellow human being, I’m sure we can be doing things better in this regard.

Aside from the human decency factor which should just be a no brainer, surely engaging the fullest scope of otherwise disadvantaged social groups (and I guess you could say that reaches beyond purely Indigenous interests too) we are planning, designing, constructing, commissioning and operating infrastructure that is as inclusive as possible, which makes for infrastructure that is as resilient as possible too. And surely through improved integration of Indigenous parties in infrastructure delivery are we not also opening up a plethora of hitherto untapped human potential? That’s got to be a good thing for all of us, right?!

The theme of the ISCA conference this year was “what is next?” – now, I don’t purport to be a cultural heritage or Indigenous interests expert, but my thinking is that here in Australia, if we want to take a genuinely sustainable approach to infrastructure project delivery, we need to really focus on the improved consideration, inclusion and integration of Indigenous peoples concerns and needs throughout the project lifecycle – strategic planning, optioneering, project planning, design, construction (including construction supply chain), operation, maintenance and beyond.

As I’ve said, I’m no expert in this area and don’t purport to have the answers here, but I do believe that looking towards the work that Berenize Peita, the Mana Whenua, Liz Root and Auckland Transport have done and are doing can provide a very good example, as a starting point to potentially adapt to the Australian context, of improved consideration and genuine integration of Indigenous concerns in infrastructure delivery.


Disclosure: the company I work for, McConnell Dowell, is part of CRL delivery partner JV, Connectus.


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