Hui-te-ana-nui: understanding kaitiakitanga in our marine environment

Haunui, oceangoing waka. Photo: Ngahuia Mita

This project examined the mātauranga (knowledge) associated with the marine environment by examining key Māori texts, and reviewing all historical archives, literature, reports, and legislation that highlights Māori perspectives of, and connection to, the sea and our waterways.

Project leader: Anne-Marie Jackson, University of Otago (Ngāti Whātua)

Historical Māori marine guardianship

Project completed in June 2017

Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) is a complex system of experiential knowledge that comprises intergenerational beliefs, values and practices that contribute to the sustainable management of the marine environment. The ethic and practice of kaitiakitanga, or spiritual and physical guardianship, is one expression of mātauranga Māori that Māori continue to observe and draw upon to sustain their reciprocal relationship with the environment.

However, there is no single repository or index of mātauranga and kaitiakitanga relating to the marine environment from archival and written sources, and much of this knowledge has been diminished and lost over time.

The inaccessibility of mātauranga relating to marine environments makes it difficult for iwi, hapū, whānau, resource assessors and managers, and others with an interest in marine ecosystems, to be fully informed when making decisions.

Understanding, developing and retaining mātauranga and kaitiakitanga specific to the marine environment is a vital component of ecosystem-based management (EBM) for Aotearoa. For example, it is crucial for developing spiritual, cultural, social, environmental and economic practices, indicators and metrics that are relevant to our Aotearoa context.

We used Kaupapa Māori and critical discourse analysis to examine mātauranga associated with the marine environment by researching archives and reviewing key texts. We reviewed literature (from personal diaries to Waitangi Tribunal papers), reports, frameworks and legislation that relate to Māori perspectives of the marine environment. We also collated and examined historical examples of marine kaitiakitanga that highlight the depth of mātauranga and the expression of Māori connection to the marine environment.

This was a Māori-led project, with a Māori research team and advisory group. This was critical given the project’s focus on mātauranga and kaitiakitanga in the marine environment, and because the kaupapa is highly relevant and important for Māori as well as all New Zealanders.

The full report is of practical use to anyone with an interest in marine resource management, including: iwi and hapu, community groups, environmental NGOs, Central government, regional councils, policy makers, industry and researchers. 

It explains themes identified by the research and why they are important to consider in decision-making. It also indexes the reference sources of this varied mātauranga, and signposts where to go for further detail so Māori communities and resource managers (and others with an interest) can find the information they need to make an informed decision about how to better use our marine resources.

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