There is only a handful of independent Maori research organisations in New Zealand - and Wanganui has two of them.

They're out there investigating things such as how helpful the Government's Working for Families initiative has been for Maori, how male and female Maori prisoners are re-integrated into society and what helps people stop smoking.

Working away at a national level, these people are all but invisible within Wanganui.

Both the organisations are non-profit, but they still have to pay wages and expenses, and they are run like businesses.


Each has six or more highly qualified staff and a history stretching back to 2005.

Te Atawhai o Te Ao (TAOTA) is based in a former Maori Affairs house in Castlecliff's Matai St and specialises in research related to the environment and to colonisation and trauma.

Whakauae Research for Maori Health and Development (WR) is based in an office in Community House in Ridgway St and researches health policy, especially smoking cessation.

The staff of both read widely, conduct interviews, travel, analyse and write reports.

They compete for contracts with university-based Maori research teams and also have Government contracts and work for community groups.

TAOTA was set up as an act of faith by Dr Cherryl Smith and Dr Paul Reynolds.

At first it only had two other part-time staff and limped from payday to payday until it got its first contract. It is a charitable trust with a whanau and governance board.

Dr Heather Gifford started WR and is its director, with Dr Amohia Boulton as associate director. It is a charitable company with a board of three directors and belongs to Ngati Hauiti, a small Rangitikei iwi that has valued academic excellence for generations.

Most of the staff from both teams have tribal roots in Whanganui or Rangitikei, or both.

They share what they have learned through publications, advise the Government, update their own websites, attend conferences and make presentations.

Both have links with indigenous groups doing similar work overseas, and collaborate with universities and independent researchers elsewhere in New Zealand.

Dr Smith of TAOTA is especially pleased with her research on Maori Vietnam veterans and on growing organic kai. Their big project at present is about inter-generational healing and recovery for Maori after trauma.

After three years of research, WR has concluded that the Labour government's Working For Families initiative made a difference to the wellbeing of Maori families, though this has been partially eroded by the recession. And the team's research has convinced them that plain packaging will help prevent young people from taking up smoking.