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Māori relationship with the environment

Ko te whakapapa tēnei
Mō ngā taonga tuku iho a Io Matua Kore
Kā moe a Papatūānuku ki a Ranginui
Kā puta ko Tānemahuta, ko Tangaroa
Kō Tāwhirimatea, kō Tūmatauenga
Kō Haumie-tiketike, ko Rongomātāne
Kō ēnei ngā taonga tuku iho ō rātou mā
Kō mātou ngā kaitiaki mō ēnei taonga.

This genealogy recites for us our divine inheritance
Through the union of Earth Mother and Sky Father
Who gave birth to our resources
And entrusted their care into our hands
The land and the sea
The weather and the conflicts between the elements
The forests and the birds
The animals and plants
All these treasures, given to us from the past
Are for us to manage for generations to come.

This statement represents the Māori perspective on the importance of the environment, which links Māori to Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother) and Ranginui (the Sky Father) through genealogy (whakapapa).

Te ao Māori – a holistic understanding of our environment

We recognise the importance of te ao Māori (Māori world view) – a holistic understanding of our environment that benefits all New Zealanders – and our obligation to provide information that contributes to Māori decision-making and well-being.

The environment is integral to Māori identity and culture. Māori see the environment as an interconnected whole, and assess its health in the same way. For Māori, all parts of the environment – animate and inanimate – are infused with mauri (life force) and are connected by whakapapa – the descent of all living things from the original creators of life, and the genealogical relationships between all lives. Māori express this relationship by identifying with their environment, often with awa or moana (river or lake) or a landform such as maunga (mountain).

Māori gain a sense of identity and belonging from their connection with the natural environment, while iwi (tribes), hapū (subtribes), and whānau (family groups) derive their sense of mana (authority and prestige) through this connection. The degradation of the natural environment can weaken this connection, with profound consequences for individual and social well-being.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) is the foundation of the Crown-Māori relationship on natural resources. Government is increasingly aware of the relationship between Māori and the environment, and the Māori world view. For example, the Tūhoe Deed of Settlement and Whanganui River Deed of Settlement clearly articulate a te ao Māori view of the relationship between humans and the environment, with Te Urewera and Whanganui River (Te Awa Tupua) becoming legal entities. As legal entities, Te Urewera and Te Awa Tupua are recognised in statute as holistic conceptions of the environment, with rights of their own, and distinct relationships to the tāngata whenua.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 also recognises te mana o te wai (which can be understood as ‘the quality and vitality of water’) alongside the national significance of fresh water. These developments highlight both the increasing recognition of Māori environmental values in environmental management, and the significance of fresh water to Māori.

Kaitiakitanga – maintaining the environment for future generations

The environment has supported the economy and provided resources for Māori. Māori recognise that along with the privileges the environment provides come the responsibility to care for the environment and maintain it for future generations. This commitment is expressed as kaitiakitanga – the practice of guardianship and environmental management grounded in a Māori world view.

Kaitiakitanga is based on mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), a body of knowledge founded on Māori cultural practice, rather than western scientific frameworks. Customary rights and use of the environment represent the permanent and unique relationship Māori have with the environment.

There is increasing recognition of the value of mātauranga Māori to all New Zealanders, and researchers have devised tools to bridge the gap between mātauranga Māori and western science. For example, researchers have developed the cultural health index to assess the health of waterways from both a biophysical and cultural perspective. This assessment takes a holistic approach and combined with other methods, provides a more comprehensive understanding of the health of our waterways.

For examples of how the cultural health index has been used see: Fresh water chapter.

Iwi and hapū groups are the main sources of environmental information relevant to Māori. These groups are involved in monitoring the health of the streams, wetlands, and other environments over which they have mana whenua. Crown research institutes such as NIWA and Landcare Research collect data on aspects of the environment significant to Māori, including data on taonga species (animals and plants).

Currently, we do not have any indicator-level data gathered using Māori frameworks. We will work with data providers to explore ways to improve te ao Māori information in future reports (see: Data needs and improvements chapter). However, most of the data in New Zealand’s Environmental Reporting Series will be relevant to Māori as it is to other New Zealanders. Some government initiatives involve iwi and iwi leaders – these explore how to reflect Māori aspirations and priorities in environmental reporting. In part, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 and He kai hei aku Ringa: The Crown-Māori Economic Growth Partnership drive these initiatives.