The Māori, an indigenous group in New Zealand, do what many indigenous groups across the globe have been unable to do—they are able play an influential role within the country’s political system. By using their language and traditional knowledge, the Māori are finding ways to combat climate change and protect biodiversity.
According to The Christensen Fund, a foundation based in the United States, the Māori have gained political power with the Ngata Dictionary, an online tool that allows the Māori to revive their traditional language. The Māori are using their knowledge of the landscape and biodiversity to provide an alternative understanding of climate change and how to find and implement solutions, according to research published by Daniel Caston at the Center for Humans and Nature. According to Caston, “the Maori have teamed up with the globalized government of New Zealand, rather than fighting against it. In this case, biocultural stewardship is evident at a multitude of levels.”
The Mātauranga Kura Taiao Fund supports initiatives towards the advancement of Māori knowledge and its use in biodiversity and natural resource management. In addition, the Ngā Whenua Rāhui Fund provides financial support for Māori landowners to protect indigenous ecosystems on their land. These funds are supporting projects such as pest control in the Mangaroa/Ohtu area near the Bay of Plenty in North Island region of New Zealand. There, government funding is helping to restore the physical and spiritual balance of the area, and reintroduce species that have disappeared from the land. The goal of funding these projects is “to seek solutions that serve the needs of the people and the land, and recognize the equality of ecological, spiritual, and cultural values.”
For generations, Māori traditionally practiced rāhui, a word that translates to “restrictions”, to allow food sources to recover. Their diet included seafood, birds, fern roots, sweet potato, taro, bottle gourds, and yams before Europeans arrived. Efforts were taken to stop pollution of the fishing grounds, but shellfish populations still declined. Despite this, the Māori belief system links all living things with all non-living things, according the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (NZBS). Māori view people as the guardians of ecosystems, and, as a result, they have a responsibility to protect those ecosystems. The integration of Māori knowledge into the NZBS allows for a biocultural approach to biodiversity management in a place where many indigenous plant and animal species are not found anywhere else on earth.