top of page

Utilising Māori Wisdom to Address Climate Change

Globally, indigenous knowledge is pivotal in aiding societies to address the challenges posed by the climate crisis. Indigenous communities and groups possess a substantial share of native forests in numerous nations. Leveraging their traditional wisdom, they are actively engaged in the restoration of these lands and other vital natural resources.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, indigenous communities constitute less than 5% of the global population; however, they are responsible for safeguarding 80% of the Earth's remaining forest biodiversity.

Despite nearly one-third of Aotearoa, New Zealand being designated as conservation land, the country still holds the unfortunate distinction of having the world's highest count of endangered species. Alarmingly, a staggering 79% of its avian, chiropteran, reptilian, and amphibian populations face the dire risk of extinction or are under threat.

The peril facing wildlife results solely from human activities, encompassing the introduction of mammalian predators and land-use methods that imperil indigenous biodiversity. Although over 40,000 individuals across 600 community conservation organisations labour across the nation, the progress achieved remains precarious, as the decline in biodiversity persists without restraint.

In Aotearoa, the synergy between Māori traditional knowledge (mātauranga Māori) and Western scientific practices is driving the restoration of ecosystems. This collaboration stands as a cornerstone among the five principles shaping 11 National Science Challenges. Notably, this partnership has found expression in "Environment Aotearoa 2022," New Zealand’s latest comprehensive assessment of national environmental conditions.

Māori possess a distinct perspective on the world, one that diverges significantly from that of Pākehā. The impacts of climate change resonate on a spiritual level, touching the realm of atua (spirituality). For many Māori, climate change is intertwined with a multitude of issues. It's inherently linked to broader concerns encompassing social development, housing, environmental degradation, access to public services, and poverty. Māori viewpoints are founded upon relationships. Collaboration with councils to address climate change consequences is underscored by historical matters related to colonisation, land loss, and sometimes strained interactions with the Crown and local authorities (Certain hapū in Northland may not acknowledge the authority of the Crown or councils).

At the core of te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) lies an intricate connection with the natural world, rooted in whakapapa to Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatuanuku (Earth Mother). A multi-generational outlook prevails, grounded in the responsibility towards tupuna (ancestors) and the well-being of generations yet unborn.

Central to this endeavour is Te Āo Māori, the Māori perspective emphasising the intricate interconnectedness of all life forms. Rooted in this worldview, we gain insights into our influence, roles, and obligations in addressing not only the climate crisis but also the broader task of restoring ecosystems facing significant challenges.

The utilisation of mātauranga Māori to translate knowledge into action involves three key aspects:

  • Ecological Insight and Intertwined Relationships: Progress in ecological science has deepened our grasp of the intricate interdependencies within ecosystems, aligning closely with the mātauranga Māori perspective on the relationship between humans and the natural world. In this view, the well-being of people is inextricably tied to the well-being of the environment. Recognising our interconnections fosters a sense of mutual responsibility and nurturance towards the environment.

  • Values and Beliefs as Anchors of Knowledge: Integrating values and beliefs into factual information makes knowledge more resonant, significant, and relatable. This integration assists individuals in forming an identity of affinity with the natural world and a profound bond with specific places. When we develop a personal connection to a place, we are more inclined to safeguard its welfare.

  • Awareness of Interdependence and Responsibility: Heightened awareness regarding our interconnectedness and reliance on the natural world enables us to discern the incongruity between stewardship and practices that endanger other species. This understanding prompts us to acknowledge the divergence between actions that sustain the environment and those that imperil it.

Community conservation organisations are poised to take on a pivotal role in realising New Zealand's national biodiversity strategy by incorporating mātauranga Māori principles.

Dedication to Te Āo Māori is evident in initiatives such as "Fit for a Better World," New Zealand’s national agricultural strategy, as well as the efforts of Aotearoa Circle, a coalition of prominent business and government figures focused on devising strategies to enrich country's natural assets.

Ecosanctuaries like Zealandia serve as existing platforms for fostering a connection with the natural world, facilitating education and volunteer engagement. With over 80 sanctuaries spread across the nation, people have ample chances to forge connections with nature and participate actively in conservation endeavours. Ecosanctuaries showcase the feasibility of environmental restoration and underscore that conservation is a collective responsibility, extending beyond governmental involvement. They adeptly cultivate a community-driven commitment to conservation, fostering a constituency for safeguarding the environment. Zealandia sees itself as a catalyst for reshaping how individuals interact with the natural world. Their two-decade strategy places a strong focus on mātauranga Māori and driving change through a shared enthusiasm for the cause. Moreover, Te Āo Māori embodies indigenous interpretations of the foundational principles that form the basis of the Circular Economy, a vital reevaluation of human actions required to attain profound and enduring sustainability.

Regular survey findings indicate that New Zealanders are growing more aware of the condition of their environment, yet awareness alone doesn't prompt active engagement. There is a consensus among New Zealanders that mātauranga Māori, a traditional framework for comprehending the natural world, could play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between awareness and proactive involvement. Māori individuals consistently navigate the intersections of two realms, navigating the Māori worldview alongside the Tauiwi (Western) perspective. Non-Māori individuals seldom venture into the Māori realm, and its unfamiliarity can evoke a sense of unease.

Integration of mātauranga Māori must not involve appropriating Māori knowledge or overlooking valid Māori concerns. Instead, the ability to embrace dual worldviews can be likened to acquiring binocular vision – individuals perceive greater depth and intricacy compared to viewing the world through a solitary lens. In order to support and enrich biodiversity, it is vital to participate in conservation initiatives that extend beyond specified preservation zones. Embracing the principles of mātauranga Māori can nurture a profound ecological connection, fostering a more robust stewardship role as guardians of biodiversity.

A growing sense of detachment from the natural world can be attributed to several significant factors, including:

  • The surge of individualism and the decline of communal bonds.

  • Diversion caused by technology and entertainment.

  • Escalating urbanisation and disparities, resulting in a decline of meaningful outdoor interactions.

  • Urban populations, especially those from disadvantaged communities, often have limited opportunities for meaningful engagement with nature.

Mere awareness is insufficient to prompt action; however, research indicates that individuals who cultivate a deeper connection with nature tend to exhibit a heightened sense of environmental accountability. To safeguard the persistence of Indigenous biodiversity, the question of transitioning from awareness to action becomes paramount. Indigenous communities have long played a pivotal role in preserving biodiversity across numerous centuries, and the potential solutions could lie within the realm of mātauranga Māori.

Te Mana o te Taiao stands as New Zealand's comprehensive biodiversity strategy, outlining conservation priorities for the forthcoming three decades. It advocates for the intertwining of Western scientific knowledge and mātauranga Māori, while underscoring an equal emphasis on both the environment and the human dimension.

The role of indigenous knowledge in addressing the climate crisis is increasingly recognised and valued. Indigenous communities have a deep connection to their lands and have often developed intricate and sustainable ways of interacting with their environments over generations. This traditional knowledge encompasses a wide range of practices related to land management, resource conservation, and resilience-building, all of which can contribute significantly to addressing climate change and promoting environmental sustainability.

How is indigenous knowledge being applied?

  • Sustainable Land Management: Indigenous communities often possess valuable insights into sustainable land management practices. Their traditional farming, fishing, and hunting methods are often rooted in a deep understanding of local ecosystems and their dynamics, helping to maintain biodiversity and prevent ecosystem degradation.

  • Forest Management: Many indigenous groups live in or near forests and have been practising sustainable forestry for centuries. Their knowledge of selective logging, agroforestry, and other techniques can help prevent deforestation and promote reforestation efforts.

  • Biodiversity Conservation: Indigenous knowledge often includes a profound understanding of local plant and animal species. This knowledge can be crucial for identifying threatened species, managing wildlife habitats, and implementing conservation strategies.

  • Climate-Resilient Agriculture: Indigenous agricultural practices are often adapted to local climates and environmental conditions, making them more resilient to changes in weather patterns and extreme events caused by climate change.

  • Water Management: Indigenous communities often have intricate knowledge of water sources, watersheds, and sustainable water use. This knowledge can be crucial for managing water resources in the face of changing precipitation patterns.

  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK): TEK encompasses the holistic understanding that indigenous communities have of their environment, including the relationships between species, ecosystems, and natural processes. This knowledge can provide insights into ecosystem functioning that can inform modern conservation and restoration efforts.

  • Cultural Preservation: Many indigenous cultures are closely intertwined with their environments. By protecting their lands and resources, indigenous communities also preserve their cultural heritage and unique ways of life.

  • Fire Management: Indigenous communities have traditionally used controlled burning to manage landscapes and prevent larger, uncontrolled wildfires. This practice has gained renewed attention as a valuable tool for preventing devastating wildfires in some regions.

  • Community-Based Adaptation: Indigenous communities are often at the frontline of climate impacts. Their adaptation strategies, built on generations of experience, can inspire and inform broader climate adaptation efforts.

  • Participatory Decision-Making: Collaborative approaches that include indigenous communities in decision-making processes related to land and resource management - usually - lead to more effective and sustainable outcomes.

In conclusion, we can say that harnessing the profound wisdom embedded within Māori culture offers a unique and valuable pathway towards addressing the pressing issue of climate change. By drawing upon the principles of mātauranga Māori, we can infuse our efforts with a holistic understanding of the environment, fostering a deeper sense of responsibility and stewardship. This approach not only empowers indigenous communities but also provides a framework for all of humanity to work together in harmony with the Earth. As we face the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, the lessons from Māori wisdom remind us that sustainable solutions are rooted in the timeless wisdom of indigenous knowledge, offering hope for a more resilient and sustainable future for our planet and all its inhabitants.


bottom of page