“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).
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.