To all it will concern,
The climate crisis is a force that will see power dynamics being altered to halt, safeguard, and conserve the environment. In Aotearoa, mātauranga Māori and the absolute sovereignty of Indigenous people are being undermined. While consultation occurs – it overshadows a much greater bureaucratic encroachment that intercedes Māori land and hapū spaces. This is unacceptable, and this is why I am writing an open letter.
I write to touch on the significant threat of our time: the climate crisis. With a limited word count, the issue itself will not be introduced, so from here stands the need to illustrate my point. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues acknowledged the climate crisis’ disproportionate impact on Indigenous populations due to legacies of inequities perpetuated by a colonial past and pervasive colonial oversight.
Looking specifically at the context of Aotearoa, Māori have inhabited this nation for at least 800 years and have been the kaitiaki of this fragile ecosystem, a responsibility embedded into the mythos of te taiao. Māori control of land and water has collapsed over two and a half centuries of disingenuity from the Crown, successive governments and their inability to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi (articles 1 & 2).
Before writing this letter, I heard a great deal of questioning made by various politicians and their allies about the legitimacy and usage of Te Tiriti o Waitangi by Māori. “They use it as an excuse to demand anything and everything” is the most notable quote I have heard. And this sentiment is useful in helping me make my message clear.
The difference between the pākehā and Māori environmental concerns is rooted in the latters’ spiritual worldview, which links the people inexorably with its preservation and sustainability. Te ao Māori observes the interconnectedness between the natural world, te atua, and tupuna; this interconnectedness assures a radically complex scenario posed by the imminent threat of a climate crisis, which will upset not only the ecological balance of Aotearoa but also the socio-economic and cultural variables.
To name a few examples: large coastal populations of Māori who live close to coastal areas and tapu areas will face heavy erosion caused by rising sea levels, acidity, and temperature rises in the ocean. These will impact nutrient cycles and breeding rates of many species preserved and fished by Māori. Māori will be disproportionately affected by higher likelihoods of tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever, to name only two. These factors, married with the appalling poverty rates of Māori across Aotearoa (16.8%, 2023), leave the Indigenous population vulnerable to these issues and with a thinner safeguard against emergencies like COVID-19.
These factors disenfranchise Māori from a connection with te taiao and emphasise a scathing fact: the failure of the Crown to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi to the terms that were agreed upon. I would like to highlight the usage of two words mentioned in our nation’s founding document: Tino Rangatiratanga, or absolute authority. Māori have the short end of the stick, unable to independently govern land and water with the absolute provisions of the Crown and its government 183 years ago.
What I am alluding to with this letter is the climate crisis’ effects disproportionately target Māori communities whom successive governments have let down. Governmental consultation with iwi across this nation is a promising start. However, it comes at the cost of greater centralisation of resources and industries, which should be left to the devolution of communities, Māori and non-Māori. This centralisation uses the word “consultation” as a political gesture. I see the Crown’s interference, but also the interference of our Parliament in taking greater control of the matters that should be given exclusive authority to Māori. I call on all those in political, economic, and social spaces that preclude an influence on Māori spaces and practices to encourage the greater access, attention, and value Māori knowledge holds.
K.D.Panui., Ngati Whatua me Ngati Porou.