An opportunity to make a contribution to the river and the people of Whanganui drew Marama Laurenson back to her birthplace.
In her new job at Whanganui District Council - strategic lead: community and culture - Mrs Laurenson will focus on the relationship between Maori and local government.
"It's about working across the whole of council to enhance responsiveness to Maori in a mutually appropriate way to benefit the community as a whole and hapu and whanau in particular," Mrs Laurenson said.
"It's actually a large job."
But it's one she is familiar with coming from a 12-year stint at Hastings District Council doing similar work.
"There was disaffection with [Hastings] council at the time I started," she said.
"There was dialogue but you've got to have good faith and effective engagement with Maori people.
"We achieved a lot over those 12 years and we were able to eliminate litigation against council."
Mrs Laurenson said history had taught the importance of having Maori involved in council decision making.
"Ideally that happens at a proper governance level by appointment rather than at a conversational level.
"Maori have to exercise their rights and responsibilities and council has to exercise its statutory duties and obligations.
"And there's no reason why they cannot come together in a proactive way that is mutually appropriate and in a way that builds the whole community.
"Essentially that's been the nature of my work."
It was important because it was "the statutory process of municipal government that defeated Maori rights", she said.
"If you look at the Whanganui River, the 1903 Coal Mines Amendment Act was the legitimate tool they used to claim ownership of the river.
"So truly we cannot erase the facts of history but together we can build the community to meet the needs of Maori and the whole community."
Mrs Laurenson has previously worked as a history researcher, worked on Treaty claims and has been a senior policy analyst in the health sector.
But she enjoys working in local government.
"You've got a direct interface with the public and a direct interface with hapu."
Mrs Laurenson said being a descendant of the Whanganui River made the job important to her.
"That's my background. That's who I am. It's not just any other job."