Kaitiaki – Māori and the environment

“Maori and the environment: Kaitiaki” is a recently published book comprised of 19 essays by Maori scholars and environmental practitioners, all exploring the impact of changes in the environment on Maori, as well as the way in which Maori have attempted (often successfully – sometimes not) to affect change in the way the environment is managed in New Zealand.

The book is the product of a collaborative effort between Ōtaki-based Rachael Selby (a senior lecturer in the School of Health and Social Services at Massey University), her son, Pataka Moore (a resource management scholar and practitioner) and their colleague Malcolm Mulholland (author, researcher and editor).

The strength of this book is that it is made up solely of Maori voices – this makes it a unique and valuable work in the area of environmental management. It is also highly interdisciplinary – the 24 contributors come from a diverse array of disciplines – but all which touch on environment or resource management in some shape or form (as Rachael Selby comments, for someone actively involved with their hapu, it is impossible to escape issues of environment – it is intrinsically interlinked with people, place, history – and perhaps most critically – the future).

Many of the essays draw both on scholarly research and personal experiences in exercising or articulating kaitiakitanga* in the respective author’s ancestral or local environment. Sometimes the voices are relatively detached and “scholarly” but often they express sadness, anger, frustration but also a resolute determination to continue to fulfill the responsibility of kaitiaki through engagement with government, councils, landowners and other stakeholders – however frustrating the process may sometimes prove.

There are places where the anger manifests itself in stronger rhetoric that some (especially NZ European) readers might find unnecessarily antagonistic or even offensive. For example Margaret Mutu’s essay outlining the battles that Ngati Kahu have experienced attempting to exercise kaitiakitanga in the Far North describes the local council and local residents’ apparent inability to understand the standpoint of the iwi on various issues as “White supremacy” and “racism” and states that the laws that govern the environment are “Pakeha laws”. But her essay is an extremely valuable commentary on the deficiencies in the way in which we manage risks and impacts on our environment – therefore, I hope that the sometimes confronting rhetoric does not detract from the important messages that this essay (and many other chapters in the book) carries.

Two other minor points: There are chapters in which maps showing the places discussed would have been very helpful to the reader – particularly for those of us not familiar with the regions described. Also, the book very usefully has an index, but it would have been great to have also had a glossary of terms – in particular, of Maori environmental, governance or related terms with which many readers may only be vaguely familiar.

*Kaitiakitanga refers to stewardship or guardianship of the environment. A related concept is “mana whenua”, meaning “those (i.e., the iwi or hapu) who belong to the land”. Only those with mana whenua can exercise kaitiakitanga. Perhaps most critically, for those who have mana whenua, the exercise of kaitiakitanga is not just a responsibility, but an obligation – which is intrinsically connected with a hapu or iwi’s mana (status or integrity).

See also: Lake Horowhenua and Hokio Stream – a hapu’s story

Maori and the environment: kaitiaki (2010), co-edited by Rachael Selby, Pātaka Moore and Malcolm Mulholland. Published by Huia Press.

Picture: Lake Horowhenua, ca 1866, by John Barr Clark Hoyte (1835 – 1913). Lake Horowhenua and Hokio Stream is the subject of the second essay in “Maori and the environment: kaitiaki”. The painting shows eel traps and two whares in the foreground at the lake’s edge at a river mouth. Three Maori are standing and seated in front of the buildings and there is a small canoe in the water and a European yacht in the distance. Bush and tall trees surround the water’s edge and the Tararuas can be seen in the background. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ID C-052-007. Photo above left: Co-editor Rachael Selby.

4 thoughts on “Kaitiaki – Māori and the environment

  1. Could you give some examples of kaitiakitanga?
    There is strong evidence that early polynesians wiped out the giant birds and seals around the coast.
    Also Maori had no mammals to manage and had a small population (100,000 + or -?).
    We shouldn’t confuse conservation with a lack of technology. there is also a political motive to maintain a management role over forests and coastal areas? It seems unfair to assume Maori are greater conservationists than non Maori. My grandfather devoted his life to a gully with native bush which is now public land, but i would love to be in my grandfathers shoes now given the high price of owing your own exclusive natural area.

    • If you read this book doesn’t say “Maori are greater conservationists than non-Maori”. You should perhaps view statistics, such as when colonial powers from Europe came and destroyed 90% (+ or -) worth of native forestry, to make way for farming which eventually polluted the lakes, streams and drinking waters upon which many Maori depended on for their livelihood. Moa and “giant birds”, seals, especially whales died from lack of habitat and over hunting which destroyed when non-Maori settlers came in circa 1800s. Maori and other indigenous cultures TRADITIONALLY take what they NEED, not what they WANT. This is the difference between indigenous streams of protocol, and Western materialism. I suggest one reads more statistics, studies 6+ years at a tertiary institution on this topic and then keeps one’s opinions or “assumptions” to oneself unless it is positive or constructive to the general public and society rather than divisive and negative.

  2. You should perhaps view statistics, such as when colonial powers from Europe came and destroyed 90% (+ or -) worth of native forestry, to make way for farming which eventually polluted the lakes, streams and drinking waters upon which many Maori depended on for their livelihood. Moa and “giant birds”, seals, especially whales died from lack of habitat and over hunting which destroyed when non-Maori settlers came in circa 1800s.

    “A few deliberately lit, intense fires more than 500 years ago destroyed much of New Zealand’s lowland forest, a new study shows.

    The fires wiped out vast tracts of the South Island’s forest.

    The massive fires – within 200 years of the known arrival of Maori in the 13th century – razed tens of thousands of square kilometres, the study by scientists from Landcare Research in Lincoln and Montana State University in the United States said. ” etc

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4454621/Deliberately-lit-fires-destroyed-forests
    http://www.archaeologydaily.com/news/201012155770/Hungry-Maoris-burned-forests-to-grow-food.html

    Moa and “giant birds”, seals, especially whales died from lack of habitat and over hunting which destroyed when non-Maori settlers came in circa 1800s.

    You’re not really saying that are you??

    “The fastest known extinction of a megafauna …..

    The descendants of the original ratites proliferated and developed distinctively during millions of years of isolation on New Zealand, until the arrival of humans.

    Moa had only one natural predator – the huge Haast’s eagle Harpagornis moorei, the largest eagle ever known with a wing span of ten feet and talons as big as tiger’s claws.

    But life in a bird’s paradise could not last, and after millions of years moas quickly ended up in Maori cooking pits, and much of their habitat was destroyed by fire.

    Holdaway and Jacomb explored the impact on moa population of low exploitation levels by an initial population of 100 people, coupled with the habitat loss caused by them. Conservative analysis used low to medium human population growth rates, minimal rates of habitat removal in two areas of the two main islands, and the lowest cropping rates.”
    http://www.terranature.org/moa.htm

    “Maori and other indigenous cultures TRADITIONALLY take what they NEED, not what they WANT. This is the difference between indigenous streams of protocol, and Western materialism.”

    You can’t really compare hunter gatherers with an industrial society where there is a large surplus and a dislocation between where people live and food is obtained.

    “I suggest one reads more statistics, studies 6+ years at a tertiary institution on this topic and then keeps one’s opinions or “assumptions” to oneself unless it is positive or constructive to the general public and society rather than divisive and negative.”

    Name the tertiary institution which teaches that:

    “Moa and “giant birds”, seals, especially whales died from lack of habitat and over hunting which destroyed when non-Maori settlers came in circa 1800s.”

    is it a Maori Studies Department?

  3. “Only those with mana whenua can exercise kaitiakitanga. Perhaps most critically, for those who have mana whenua, the exercise of kaitiakitanga is not just a responsibility, but an obligation – which is intrinsically connected with a hapu or iwi’s mana (status or integrity).”

    So those with manawhenua trump anyone else, no matter what they bring:

    Eugenie Sage says

    It could be EXCEPT THAT we understand that Ngai Tahu and the Akaroa taiapure management committee are moving quickly to have the taiapure which covers 90% of Akaroa Harbour extended to cover the Dan Rogers area without public consultation.

    Legally you cannot have a dual regime over the same area of sea space i.e. a marine reserve and a taiapure because they are established and managed under different legislation. (A taiapure is a fisheries management tool under the Fisheries Act). If Ngai Tahu is successful in extending the taiapure, it would then be impossible to re-apply for a marine reserve. You can write to Fisheries Minister, Phil Heatley asking him to not extend the taiapure.

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