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The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand

Issue date: 
Saturday, 25 June 1988
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO

It is a profound experience for a Māori to move around the Pacific and visit other parts of Polynesia. Common names like Taranaki, Aoraki, Patea, Whanamumu, Hawaiki pop up all over the place. The myths, traditions and even the social structures are closely related. The Maori language relates intimately to other Polynesian dialects and the kinship of the language is echoed in the kinship of the people.

Maoris reflect on the small size of these Pacific Islands. The three atolls which make up Tokelau each break down into a number of small islands surrounding a lagoon. The reality is the sea with the people struggling not to be overwhelmed by it.

The ancestors of the Maoris lived in a world dominated by Tangaroa, the God of the Sea. In their canoes they moved south to the largest landmass they had experienced. From being sea-dominated they moved into a world dominated by Tane, the God of the Forest.

Maori creation traces itself from the union of the sky (Rangi) and Earth (Papa) which resulted in the birth of a number of children, including Tane and Tangaroa. These offspring were the creators of all resources. They are the basis of the close relationship. Land is the proof of my link with past ancestors and future generations. It is my turangawaewae. What must also be said is that Māori culture was nurtured and developed here. It is uniquely indigenous to New Zealand. Other cultures present in this country had their origins elsewhere. That is not to deny them a place but it does require a greater sense of modesty than has been the case. The Rangi and Papa story provides a vast whakapapa or genealogy, which orders existence. I have a personal whakapapa which links me with a specific group of people and today I have warmed up that relationship by being with my kinspeople at Waitara, Taranaki. For us it is Pomare Day, the day when Taranaki tries to come together. But my whakapapa goes back into whakapapa atua, the genealogy of Rangi and Papa, and I end up in a position where the trees, birds, plants, lizards are my kin. So this kinship relationship with the natural world provides the framework for the way in which the world is ordered and the way in which I see the world. I must emphasise that this relationship is personal and by descent and not because I have some intellectual conviction about a set of principles.

Consequently, Tipene O'Regan in "Māori Perceptions of Water in the Environment" can say: "If you are looking down into the water and contemplating, you see your reflection there. In Māori terms that reflection you see coming back from that pool has a moko on it, because in the traditional Māori view, that water, land or tree is you. That's the little thing that makes us feel a bit differently from Pakeha conservationists."

Here is another story.

"I was brought up in a big family with aunties and uncles, brothers and sisters and cousins. There would have been about 50 of us in a communal type of living, in a whanautanga. My aunties and uncles were all born at home and their pito (afterbirth) was buried under this big walnut tree. In most places they use a totara or matai tree but we did not have any of these. It was a tradition that when this tree grew your mana grew with it; it was your family tree and changed with us. I can remember one Christmas we were getting trestles set up under this tree for Christmas dinner. One of the branches was in the way so my uncle got up and cut if off. When my grandfather saw, he went off his rocker and just grabbed a stick and belted my uncle around the legs. My uncle did not know the reason and my grandmother had to explain that he was dissecting someone away from the family. It was a belief they had. I can actually remember seeing it being cut and the gum, red gum, came out of the branch."

By burying the pito in the earth under the tree the mana and the mauri or the very essence of being alive were preserved.

Māori spirituality ties a person back into the natural world. If you take a tree then your beliefs about Tanemahuta control that action. If you take fish you give the first one to Tangaroa. The extraction of the resource is controlled by two factors: the ability of the people to process what they have taken and the need to cull the resource (e.g. a mussel bed) in order to improve it. If there is an ethic, it is an ethic for future use, not for preservation as such. This would include resources as diverse as kereru, pingao, titi, weka, trees.

The Waitangi Tribunal's report on the Muriwhenua Fishing Claim emphasises this fact of resource management.

"11:2:4 (b) Use of the seas (in both bands) was regulated and controlled by established practices or laws that were regularly observed. They require the seasonal capture of many species, the seasonal use of some fishing grounds and the imposition of tapu and rahui (prohibitions) to protect sensitive breeding areas or threatened species. These laws and practices were directed to resource maintenance.

(d) There was no right to destroy the resource: there was rather a duty to protect it

(e) Marked differences of opinion (between Māori and non-Māori) on the nature and importance of breeding and migratory habits are also reflected in different laws. Muriwhenua Māori exploited young mullet for example but were careful (about) taking adult breed stock during shoaling and spawning. Modern regulations prohibit the taking of undersized species, while the capture of fish when shoaling is usual, and provides the most lucrative returns."

Sir James Henare, speaking this week at a Tourism Conference at Waitangi, said the Treaty of Waitangi meant different things to Māoris and non-Māoris and this was the root of the problem.

"To Europeans it was a historical document marking the birth of New Zealand while to the a Māoris it was a document giving them legitimate rights over land and sea."

Because of this latter understanding, the Waitangi Tribunal is a Court of Inquiry able to hear complaints that laws or government actions conflict with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi to the detriment of the claimants. Inevitably there is confusion surrounding the Treaty because as the Tribunal itself says:

"The Treaty of Waitangi was not intended merely to fossilise the status quo but to provide a direction for future growth and development."

Similarly, Mr Justice Cook in the Court of Appeal decision called the Treaty

"an embryo rather than a fully developed and integrated set of ideas."

A critical concept in the Treaty is reckoned to be honour. The 1840 signatories were honourable in their intentions. Māoris believe the rectification of injustices depends on the honour of the Crown. Honour is a difficult concept to tie down but for Māoris it is an appropriate word because the Treaty of Waitangi is seen as a covenant between the Crown and Māori people similar to the covenants between God and Abraham or Noah. The Treaty is written in 'missionary Māori', 'rangatiratanga' familiar from the Lord's Prayer - Kia tae mai tou Rangatiratanga: Thy Kingdom Come. Nau hakite Rangatiratanga: for Thine is the Kingdom.

Obviously the present debate will test our understanding of the partnership foreshadowed by the Treaty. Most Māoris would believe the Māori signatories did not surrender their tino rangatiratanga, their sovereignty or mana. The debate about partnership will involve not simply the stimulation of the economy but also the exercise of political power. What constitutional arrangement best expresses our understanding of partnership? The question is more easily asked than answered.

In last year's Sanderson Memorial Address, Guy Salmond said:

"We need to adapt our national culture and institutions to acknowledge the Māori way and Māori values. Our commitments under the Treaty of Waitangi must be fundamental to everything we do. In the conservation movement we need to remember this and to reach out and establish a further and richer encounter with Māoridom. We can work with Māori people on issues like rating and Nga Whenua Rahui and on other environmental issues close to the heart of the Māori community such as the coastline and the purity of our rivers. A major commitment to a close relationship with the Māori community is then vitally important for conservationists in New Zealand today."

Guy does not tell what this national culture is that needs adapting but my guess is that the Conservation movement has not related well to Māoris. Pureora, Minganui and Waitutu have all been complicated situations. My further guess is that the difficulties are primarily concerned with style, communication, and cultural differences, in fact the clash of the cultures. If that is the case, I can understand why people want to learn more about Māoris and to develop a closer relationship with the Māori community. For most people that is very difficult. A marae is not an accessible place. People don't want to barge in. The media's treatment of Māoridom reminds me of a person surveying an unfamiliar landscape through a telescope. They are explaining Maoridom to other people rather than speaking out of the hopes and confusions of Māoridom.

Where do you start? If you see yourself as part of that partnership envisaged by the Treaty, then you must start with yourself and your own assumptions. Let me start with two comments. It is a sad fact that Western culture allows economy to mean only "money economy". It equates success and even goodness with monetary profit because it lacks any other standard of measurement. But we must never use "economy" to mean only "money economy". It means literally the "order of households". Therefore we must judge economic health by the health of households, both human and natural. Marked economic value is placed on productive work. We don't place the same economic value on caring or mentoring. That is why I value the small farm. It is part of an ancient pattern of values, ideas, hopes, attitudes, faiths and skills that support the sound establishment of people on the land.

It is also worth noting that in natural or biological systems waste does not occur. In non-industrial human cultures all that is sloughed off in the living arc of a natural cycle remains within the cycle, it becomes fertility, the power of life to continue. In nature death and decay are as necessary as life and so nothing is wasted. But there have always been unusable industrial products because industrial cycles are never complete. Consequently, there are two characteristic results of industrial enterprise: exhaustion and contamination. Moa Point immediately springs to mind.

In the Old Testament the Promised Land was taken by force from its established inhabitants. Consequently, the land is seen as a gift because the people who are to possess it did not create it. Nor was the land seen as a permanent gift. It was given for a time and only for so long as it is properly used.

As our natural landscape tries to survive the onslaught of humans there is no need to apologise for developing an ethic or theology of land. To me it is a necessary prerequisite for any notion of conservation or resource management. It binds together theory and practice, for how can you love your neighbour if you don't know how to build or mend a fence? How can you be a neighbour without bringing virtue to a practical issue? How will you practice virtue without skill? The ability to be good is the ability to do good work for good reasons.

I want now to distinguish between a sense of place and a sense of space. I want also to suggest that Māori spirituality as far as land is concerned flows out of a sense of place.

A space is an arena of freedom, free of pressures and basically empty. A place is space where things have happened which are now remembered and which bind the generations and so give us identity. That is how Māoris see land. Peaks, rivers, features are named to commemorate nga tipuna who have passed this way before and left their powerful memory on this landscape. Land and physical features are personified. In oratory the link between land and ancestry is continually emphasised.

Te Ao Turoa is the term for environment. Lands, forests, lakes, seas and rivers are all part of Te Ao Turoa. The important thing is that these elements possess the people and not the other way around. Links to the land are links to both the past and the future. The present generation must care for the land given to them by past generations in trust for those of the future.

The Bible is the story of God's people with God's land. Israel's experience is of belonging to a land never fully given, never quite secured. Israel is always on the move from land to landlessness, from landlessness to land, from life to death, from death to life. The character of Israel is hammered out in its search for promises which seem so rich but which are also burdened with ambiguity and loss.

There is much in the present experience of urbanised, ageing, underpopulated New Zealand, which equates to the experience of Israel. Both within the country and within the South Pacific region we are searching for our place. The central problems of New Zealand, as I see them, are not emancipation and freedom but rootage and a sense of place, not meaning but belonging, not separation from community but location within it.

You are probably familiar with Karl Marx's statement that "religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world ... the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people." In other words, the very insistence on divine activity is always evidence that people are helpless and passive. What Māoris have done is to reinterpret the Christian religion in the light of their fundamental traditional values. It is an interaction, which is constant, dynamic and certainly not spiritless. The results are particular Māori cultural expressions of religion. The Māori understands the physical realm is integrated with the spiritual realm. Every act has physical and spiritual implications. Supernatural forces govern the way people interact with each other and relate to the environment.

I hope there is something of use in what I have said. In conclusion, I want to endorse Sandra Lee's own words.

"The Conservation movement and Forest and Bird must be fair and consistent with, and considerate of, Māori perspectives when dealing with conservation matters. Our first priority must be the development of better communication and trust between us and the realisation that many of our aspirations in terms of conservation values are the same."

Last updated: 
Saturday, 25 June 1988

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