Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Integrating Māori values with environmental solutions


Dr Selai Letica, talks about why the shift to Māori values is happening and why it matters.

The world is facing increasingly complex environmental, social, cultural and economic challenges that seem to be converging. In New Zealand, there are growing concerns about the declining state of our soil and water resources and the role of current agricultural practices in that decline. Pressure is mounting for unsustainable land-use management to change – but to what? And how?

Conventional approaches to science have failed to address these so-called ’wicked problems’. To solve them, governments, industry, researchers and communities need new ways of working to deliver holistic solutions that work within our ecological and economic limits.

Meanwhile, the ‘Western’ view of the natural environment as a source of resources for humans to use for our own benefit is slowly beginning to evolve, becoming more aligned with the Māori understanding that people are inherently part of the environment, and the environment is part of people.

"Māori values, knowledge and societal norms can make unique and transformative contributions to solving some of our most ‘wicked’ environmental and societal problems."

What is causing this shift? Partly, it’s the environment itself. For example, as extreme weather events increase under a changing climate, non-Māori are increasingly aware of the reciprocal nature of our relationship with nature: when we mistreat our environment, we mistreat ourselves.

Social and cultural influences have also played a role. Our legal system has recognised the personhood of Te Urewera National Park and Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River). The research, science and innovation sector is increasingly taking on its Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations to partner, participate and protect Māori interests. And all over Aotearoa New Zealand, the rapid growth of te reo Māori education is increasing people’s understanding of the Māori way of seeing the world.

The Māori world view (te ao Māori) acknowledges the interconnectedness and interrelationship of all living and non-living things. This holistic approach, seeking to understand the total system, not just parts of it, is necessary to create solutions to ‘wicked’ problems that minimise negative repercussions in other parts of the system.

The inclusion of te ao Māori in scientific research can deepen our collective understanding of connections, interdependencies and long-term intergenerational perspectives.

Opening up research to include Māori values and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) is also part of this evolution. Māori values are centred around the obligation to foster reciprocal relationships with all aspects of the environment, living and non-living.

Mātauranga Māori is highly transdisciplinary and integrative in its approach to building new knowledge, through the organising principle of whakapapa (literally meaning ‘to layer’).

This system of whakapapa means that many Māori take an intergenerational view of the impacts of the actions we take now. This ultra-long-term perspective is another important frame of reference in science and an important incentive for change. All landowners feel a duty to leave the land and water they care for in good condition for their grandchildren and generations to come.

There is emerging evidence to suggest that the processes used in Māori science have an important role in removing the walls between scientific disciplines and helping teams of scientists with different areas of expertise to integrate their knowledge. This can help transdisciplinary research teams develop integrated methods to identify practical and sustainable solutions.

At Our Land and Water, we believe that Māori values, knowledge and societal norms can make unique and transformative contributions to solving some of our most ‘wicked’ environmental and societal problems.

Combining mātauranga Māori and Western science will result in a new wave of applied, integrated science that is distinctly designed for Aotearoa.

Fit for a better world

Integrating Maori values is evident in the new Food and Fibres Sector Vision - based on the concept of Te Taiao – is a unique way forward that focuses on shaping our future around the health of our climate, land, water and living systems. 

This plan aims to bring policy, investment, science and innovation together to create outstanding products around a compelling global proposition, establish a low carbon emissions society, restore the health of our rivers and groundwater, and revitalise the biodiversity in our ecosystems. 

The Vision was developed by the Primary Sector Council, which has now followed up with a full strategy and a detailed report on Te Taiao pathways.

The key five elements crucial to making that happen are:

  1. Applying a regenerative mindset: thinking about what around we can regenerate in our ecosystems.
  2. Taking a Te Taiao approach.
  3. Being committed to ethical production systems.
  4. Delivering outstanding products for discerning consumers around the world.
  5. Making the most of our New Zealandness in everything we do.

You can find out more at