April 22nd marked the 52nd anniversary of Earth day, a day to demonstrate support for environmental protection. With the United Nations releasing the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports on climate change mitigation and its impacts, it is clear our planet is slowly dying from the effects of capitalism and a half-hearted effort by our governments to take real climate action.
The IPCC report on emissions noted that Asia and the Pacific had an 83% net growth in greenhouse gases since 2010, with New Zealand, Australia, and Japan having some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Currently, New Zealand fails to make good on its promise to reduce emissions. Western approaches to environmentalism continue to show that they do not outweigh the effect of capitalism, colonialism, and climate change on our environments.
Climate change continues to disproportionately affect indigenous peoples worldwide compared to non-indigenous people. Pacific Indigenous people are one of the first populations to experience the consequences of climate change first-hand. Low elevation and insular coastlines with rising sea levels mean our islands face the immediate risk of sinking. For Pacific Islanders, the land and ocean have economic and cultural significance. They are essential elements of our people. They inform our history, spirituality, and mythology. It is where we gather our kaimoana, bathe, and rest. The very essence of our culture is eroded by virtue of climate change and the apathy towards taking real climate action. Climate activist Wynn Bruce passed away on April 22nd after setting himself on fire. The event being completely ignored by most politicians served as a microcosm of our world leaders’ general indifference toward climate change.
A report in 2017 identified Māori as among the most vulnerable groups to climate change in New Zealand due to their “significant reliance on the environment as a cultural, social, and economic resource”. Our people commonly work in primary industries, and many Māori communities exist on the coasts of Aotearoa, making them almost as vulnerable as our distant whānau in the islands. Like them, our culture and customs are threatened as coastal iwis report many of their urupā (cemeteries) and marae becoming flooded.
Māori are one of the most affected populations when it comes to the adverse effects of climate change, and yet, our voices tend to be the least heard. The importance of our knowledge and systems continues to be dismissed. Yet, mātauranga Māori, a traditional system of understanding the natural world, could help take people from awareness to action. Our people are plagued by savage race stereotypes, but a historic analysis shows our people weren’t just warriors but guardians who tended to the environment and land that was so core to our psychology and belief system. As the late Moana Jackson once said: “Where did the author Alan Duff get the idea to call his book Once Were Warriors?… a clear and objective analysis of our society would have shown that the book could more properly have been called Once Were Gardeners.”
Indigenous approaches and traditional ecological knowledge are key to changing the current apathy many have toward climate change. Although indigenous approaches are frequently associated with ontological and spiritual concepts, they are gradually but surely becoming recognised as proof of practical sustainability. Western academia (including the University of Auckland) needs to start recognising the value of mātauranga Māori in environmental management. Last year’s attack on mātauranga Māori by UoA staff members is just one example of how our knowledge is dismissed. This, coupled with UoA being the only New Zealand university to take no stance on climate change during the 2019 climate protests, displays a dangerous apathy prevalent in many New Zealanders.
For our young people, it weakens our hope for the future. Doomscrolling news regarding climate change can have negative psychological effects. It can make us anxious, stressed, fearful, depressed, and isolated as we know we do not have the power to make substantial change. And those who possess the power choose to do the bare minimum, if anything at all. It is one of many factors contributing to New Zealand’s ever declining mental health.
Ngaio, a second-year environmental science student at UoA, shares her opinion on current climate action efforts and the danger rising sea levels have on their home. “The land and sea are so important in our culture, and it’s being destroyed for the benefit of those with no foresight“. Ngaio laments the unjust nature of climate change, saying, “It is not us (the youth) who are at fault for climate change, and yet we are the ones fighting for climate action, we are the ones it will affect the most“. The importance of the land to Ngaio and her iwi is potent, with Tūhoe having programmes that teach traditional environmentalism:
“Our people have used mātauranga Māori to save our wildlife. I can’t say I know enough to fully explain mātauranga Māori, but I can speak on its use. It strengthens our bond with the land. I think this is a fundamental aspect that is ignored. People need to have that connection to the environment and then we’ll be able to fight for it. Here, at home, we are Kaitiakitanga, guardians of land, ocean, and sky“.
Regarding Te Tiriti, Ngaio laments the political aspects of New Zealand’s climate inaction. “I can only speak from what I’ve learnt at uni, but I know particular regard is placed on Kaitiaki according to the resource management act (RMA)“. Despite this, Kaitiaki voices and knowledge continue to be dismissed. It comes as no surprise that our governments continue to ignore Mätauranga Māori in legislation despite the benefits it can bring to Aotearoa.
Along with Ngaio, wāhine look to be leading the way for climate action in Aotearoa. Youth continue to be the voice for climate action. Wāhine rangatahi continue to fight for a rights-based approach to landscape development. Doing so means restoring our understanding of our sacred responsibilities at Kaitiakitanga. Māori archaeology student and climate activist India Logan-Riley helped form the rangatahi led climate action initiative Te Ara Whatu. The group seeks to “create relationships from a place of whakapapa and shared values, on a domestic, national, and international level” in hopes of working towards climate action and indigenous sovereignty.
India spoke at the opening of the COP-26 Summit. There, she called on world leaders to recognise the power of indigenous communities in the fight against climate change. “We’re still not seeing the appropriate acknowledgement of indigenous sovereignty as a solution to climate change“. In her final statements to our world leaders, India sums up our feelings as young Māori students.
“This is an invitation to you. Learn our histories, listen to our stories, honour our knowledge, and get in line or get out of the way.”