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Te Tuna Heke Artwork Unveiling

Te tuna tāone/Urban Eel 2019 has flown by, with a huge mixture of projects and student actions getting undertaken, and collaborations occurring throughout Christchurch! One such collaboration was the Te Tuna Heke art project, where students painted large carved wooden eels with Christchurch street artist Richard “Pops” Baker. These were installed on the 20th of September at the Riverbend Refuge- a site where people and nature can connect and thrive- which was developed by the Green Lab (previously Greening the Rubble).

The site was blessed by Hutika Croft-Gibbs from Matapopore on the day, and a waiata was led by Linwood College students who spent the morning preparing the site. We then heard about the site and it’s past life from Evan Smith from AvON, and about the Riverbend Refuge Project from Khye Hitchcock from The Green Lab. Students, project collaborators, teachers, parents and supporters then shared kai and explored the site- producing rubbings with Evan Smith and Pops Baker, playing a freshwater themed game with Jane Ash from Greening the Rubble, producing art of their Urban Eel experience with myself and creating poetry with Khye.

The artwork produced was a special representation of the different homes of the Tuna- from the high country rivers where they reside and grow, all the way down to the Kaikōura coastline where they begin their grand migration journey across the Pacific Ocean. Researchers at NIWA are currently trying to figure out their exact journey, but for now it’s important that we look after all the different places that our long fin eels reside. With a conservation status of at risk-declining, it is important that we are aware of all of the places our Tuna reside in and journey through, so we can do our best to look after these taonga (treasured) species. In creating this artwork, students went through a journey of learning the epic tale of the unusual life of the Tuna, understanding why they are in decline, and taking action to look after them. This art project is a creative way of taking action- by showing people walking along the Avon that the Tuna have many homes and pathways, and that they are a beautiful species, hopefully they find a place in their hearts for this animal and begin undertaking positive behaviours towards their environment.

I have been lucky enough to follow the creation from the carving of the eels, to the painting and unveiling. It has been fascinating to speak with Pops about the importance of this work, and even more fascinating to watch him peacefully work with the school students to produce beautiful art. The idea of riverscapes came from Pops, which shaped the entire project. I watched so many students get their brushes wet (and often paint on their aprons!) as they worked together to create the works below. This project not only helped the eels, but also gave the students a taste of how creativity is an important tool- it’s not only scientists, rangers and conservation managers who help our environment (although they certainly do an important job!).

Below are some images from the unveiling- thank you to Waitākiri School, Our Lady of the Assumption School, Selwyn House School, Rudolf Steiner School, Isleworth School and Burnside Primary School for their contributions to this site, as well as all of those named above. Finally, thank you to Resene for supplying paints and the drop cloth, and to the City Council Innovation and Sustainability fund and the Rata Foundation for supporting this project.


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