Growing Indigenous youth participation in climate change decision-making


See a video series developed for this project, here and here.

Project Summary from the research project “Mana Rangatahi: Climate change decision-making

Mana Rangatahi was an action research and leadership project/pilot study working with two kura in high risk flooding areas of Ōtuatahi Christchurch.

Our approach to climate adaptation education with Indigenous young people began by recognising that Māori and Pacific young people already have pre-existing strengths and capabilities that can uniquely contribute to addressing complex climate challenges. This is an important starting point, because young citizens and Indigenous youth in particular face disproportionate risks and impacts from climate change.

Problem solving and leadership

The study focused on ways to develop the problem solving skills and leadership capability of rangatahi aged 12-14 years, though intergenerational support, particularly using  storytelling and action research to reinforce and amplify the leadership capabilities of young people. Supporting rangatahi to see themselves as part of a network of distributed leadership, or people you can count on,  is also important, because processes of colonisation have disrupted networks of collective leadership.

Additionally, for the past three decades, climate related education has largely focused on the acquisition of scientific knowledge and encouraging individual behaviour change. While scientific knowledge is essential for tackling climate change, that approach centres on the ‘problem’ rather than young people’s capability to generate solutions and the increasing practice and significance of indigenous communities regenerating self-determining capabilities for decision making as an expression of tino rangatiratanga.


This pilot study trialled wānanga or talanoa with two schools, that took place in three steps, with each step building on the one before.

The first step identified community leadership strengths, through intergenerational storytelling methods including  pūrākau and ‘ei making. This storytelling process, gave context about taking action in the past and insights about challenges and achievements shared by matua with rangatahi.

Step two scaffolded from this understanding of cultural strengths to support young people to identify their own preferred leadership styles and sources of community  support for problem-solving using digital mapping and illustration. Step three involved gaining understanding the science of climate and visiting sites where this science had been applied in practical problem-solving situations to tackle local flooding issues in the community.

Finally, students were supported to put their learning into action through identifying changes they wanted to see in their community and learning how to lobby and take action, presenting their challenges and suggestions for action to local government and other community partners and developing plans to implement these changes.

Study success and findings

The study highlights the power of cultural, strength-based intergenerational support (including story-telling, leadership role modelling and mentoring). It highlights the importance of scaffolding Indigenous young people into positions of  collective responsibility to better address  ‘wicked problems’ such as climate injustice within a broader intergenerational journey of resilience and reclamation. We argue that intergenerational storytelling is essential to support Indigenous young people but the point is not that indigenous young people ‘solve’ or ‘adapt’ to climate change, rather that they chart Indigenous futures, which by necessity must engage with climate challenges.

In this context, we suggest that paying attention to relationships in which these stories are shared, is also essential. An ongoing ethical research commitment to supporting relationships between young people and their wider community, environments and spiritual context is vital.