Technology is now bringing your whenua to you, so what else does the future hold? Our mapping specialist Christine Vaughan attended the 2017 Indigenous Mapping Wānanga to find out.


More than 200 mapping practitioners from across the world attended the 2017 Indigenous Mapping Wānanga in Hamilton earlier this year. In attendance was Te Tumu Paeroa’s mapping specialist Christine Vaughn. She’s brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to Te Tumu Paeroa and is helping to better connect owners to their land.  

The four day wānanga explored the tools available to do this mahi and what those tools are capable of. Training at the wānanga was provided by world leaders Google, Esri and LINZ and it’s all aimed at furthering the skills of non-profit mapping speciliasts and those wanting to become a lead for their iwi/hapu. 

But what exactly is indigenous mapping, and how does it help Māori land owners? We sat down with Christine to find out what it all means for both Māori and indigenous peoples worldwide.

What does digital mapping of land actually capture, and what is the purpose of mapping land?

The digital mapping of the land captures the details that are on paper maps or the information people know about areas. Then you have the ability to work with that information at different scales. So you could be mapping information for all of New Zealand, or you could map the same information right down to the smallest parcel of land.

You can also add or remove layers of information both of which give you a different perspective on the land. You can also perform analysis tasks which can provide greater insights into areas.

How does it help Māori land owners and organisations?

The more information we capture about the land gives us the ability to make better informed decisions.  We’re able to consider the cultural factors of a land block if the information has been shared with us and captured digitally. Using other data sets that are created by organisations like Landcare Research or the Ministry for the Environment, you can consider a range of possibilites for the land and what the most productive use might be.

Can you tell what land is likely to be productive from digital maps? If so, how? 

You can use layers of information to help inform decisions.  Organisations like Landcare Research, the Ministry for the Environment and NIWA have collected layers of information about things like rock type, soil, vegetation cover and the weather. When you layer this data over each other, it gives a broader picture of the likely characteristics of the land.

We can add to that information with other risk factors to analyse threats to development. We can also compare the land attributes with the attributes of other blocks. If they have similar characteristics, they might be suitable for similar development.

How much has drone technology changed the game in terms of indigenous mapping?

Drone technology is giving us another way to see the land, and view areas that are challenging to get to. An example shown at the conference had people following the trails of their ancestors with the drone.

It’s also possible using drones or other sources of aerial imagery to see changes in the texture of the land. Things like Pā sites can show up quite clearly from above when they’re not visible on the ground.

What sorts of things can be done with VR (Virtual Reality) goggles and land?

It’s not an area I’ve had any prior experience with. I expect it’ll provide an awesome experience of the whenua for people who can’t get home, or for inaccessable areas.  You can put any of the imagery or layers you’re using into a virtual reality setting and move around them to gain a different perspective.

Does mapping help identify potential existing or potential environmental issues?

Abolutely! Mapping enables the modelling of flows or dispersals. So you’re able to predict the impact of something like an oil spill based on knowledge of water flows in the area. Sea level rise is really easy to map and model so you can see where the impacts are. Or soil types, pollen or spray drift can be calculated based on wind patterns. 

What further opportunities can you see for Māori to interact with their history while visiting ancestral lands?

We saw a presentation from Hera Ngata Gibson where Te Aitanga ā Hautiti used the Google Street View camera to map trails around the East Coast. They plan to attach interviews and imagery and release it on Google Street View. But there are so many possibilities for engaging people with the land once you have a good collection of data. 

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