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Naked in Nuhaka: Green Revolution

Leo Koziol: Naked in Nuhaka

Green Revolution

MAORI IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND TODAY are entering a new phase of social, cultural and economic development. Young Maori are returning to the "ahi kaa" (heritage tribal homelands), iwi and hapu Treaty claims are being settled, and Maori initiatives in media (such as the recently launched Maori television) and education (such as Wananga o Aotearoa, with 70,000 students) are flourishing. We are at a time of important change.

With settlement of Treaty claims, iwi and hapu will increasingly be investing in new economic development initiatives. But will these initiatives be socially, ecologically or culturally sustainable?

Experience shows that current models of Western economic development are anathema to retaining Maori cultural heritage (tikanga). Indeed, some might argue that "Green economics" offers a better alternative for Maori to set pathways to a sustainable future. Looking at the principles of Green economics, you find a greater level of correlation with traditional Maori concepts such as whanaungatanga (family), kotahitanga (unity) and kaitiakitanga (ecological stewardship). Under the first two principles, as some Maori advance, all other Maori must advance with them. Under the third, unless our environment is looked after, the people will perish. Such ethical foundations are quite in tune with Green Party principles of social justice, ecological wisdom and appropriate decision-making.

Two possible futures for Maori seem apparent: one along the current traditional Western economic development path; the other along a green economics path. The question is: do green economics offer a more viable path for Maori in the 21st Century?


It is not too difficult to sketch out a model of Maori development based on traditional Western models. Indeed, many iwi (tribes), hapu (subtribes), and whanau (extended families) are already moving along this path. Here's a projection of some of the current trends.

Maori will continue to expand unsustainable land practices over their collectively owned land. Such practice will lead to continued alienation of land title, as Maori develop low-cost base commodities for raw export (e.g. logs) and are left open to the whims of global trading markets.

Maori will support and develop large-scale tourism projects in pristine environments that will despoil ecological and landscape values, with many Maori becoming low-paid service worker handmaidens to a global tourism and resort elite (with only a select few Maori joining the global elite at the top).

Large-scale aquaculture will be developed in an environment where kaitiakitanga is only a secondary priority, leading to long-term decline of an already degraded resource.

Maori will remain urban-focused, with future generations continuing to be disassociated from their culture as their preferences turn to homogenised "McWorld" entertainment. Most urban Maori will be marginalised in "ghettos" as new immigrant cultural groups emerge as economic forces. An "underclass" of Maori will persist as a low-wage mechanism for the capitalist system.

Undereducated and underemployed Maori will not be encouraged into work or exploration of their culture, and will be discouraged from returning to their homelands by restrictive and bureaucratic benefit requirements (witness the impacts of the recent "Jobs Jolt" and "No Go" zones).

The long-term prospect is a small "staunch" group of Maori keeping the culture and language alive, but the general majority of Maori with high levels of involvement in crime, unemployment, and gangs, high levels of involvement in the "underground economy" (illegal fisheries, marijuana, P) and continued high teen pregnancy rates and low life expectancy.


What is the alternative? Could there possibly be a different kind of vision for a green future in Maori economic and social development? The following posits a possible scenario.

Maori will take a "technological leap" by undertaking sustainable, regionally-based economic resource development where Maori intellectual property is retained and (where deemed culturally appropriate) marketed back to global economies as a unique "point of difference" for Aotearoa NZ as a whole.

Initiatives such as Manuka honey, essential healing oils, and Maori food products will flourish. Maori will research and adopt best practices in sustainable land management from around the world. Maori centres for ecological design will be developed, drawing talent nationally and internationally.

Tourism will be developed in a "hapu-appropriate" manner, where "eco-tourists" and "cultural tourists" will be encouraged to undertake extended stays (on a "user-pays" basis) rather than consume Maori culture as just another fast-food "tourist experience". Maori will market their tourism destinations internationally on their own terms, and in their own language.

Maori in the urban areas will be at the cutting-edge of taking their culture on to the world stage, in the fields of film, arts, television and drama. Success will breed success. Undereducated Maori will thrive in Maori educational institutions, and will eventually have higher labour participation rates than Pakeha (as a result of the youthful population). Young Maori will help pay for the pensions of an increasingly aging Pakeha population. Unemployed Maori will be encouraged to return home, where they will find a low-cost, previously vacant housing stock "retrofitted" as "healthy homes" with the best in insulation, solar water heating, and "off-grid" windmills and small-stream hydro.

The long-term prospect is Maori as a core and highly present factor in the economic and cultural development of Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Gangs, crime and unemployment would still exist but would be "marginalised" by tribal Maori societies thriving as they strive to rebuild and recreate their economic bases and socio-cultural identities.

Kaitiakitanga will be a core ethic of this economic rebirth, with coastal "Rahui" set aside as nurseries, marine farms developed for high-value branded product, and land stewardship practices returning large tracts of Maori land to native forest contributing to national biodiversity goals. Maori will embrace organic practice in agriculture and horticulture. There will be a strong emphasis on "value-added" Maori branded products.

Maori will be global leaders in bringing indigenous peoples together to explore shared values and shared development issues and will come to be seen globally as a "model" for sustainable development. Maori will develop their natural resource base for economic development in a global market, but will also sustainably feed their people from the kai (food) of the land and sea.


So what is the likely future for Maori development? Will Maori despoil resources and fritter away Treaty settlement cheques? Or will we invest in sustainable and renewable resources, managing the land in a regenerative way? Will Maori increasingly be a part of the underclass of New Zealand, or will we emerge into a core part of the nation's middle classes? Or will the economic equation simply be changed entirely?

On current trends, the future seems to fit somewhere between the two extremes presented. The reality is that the example scenarios I have listed above are mostly drawn from real world examples all across Aotearoa NZ. Some Maori coastal communities are seeking to protect their kaimoana through Rahui, whilst others seek to exploit the sea with expansive marine farms. Some Maori are returning home to their tribal lands (or what's left of them) to try and seek a future with their people, whilst others abandon these shores for a different future in Australia. Some Maori will seek exclusive foreshore title so they can sell the rights to marine farms and beach resorts to foreign investors, whilst others will want it for the simple reason of no longer being excluded from mainstream Pakeha decision-making processes.

Maori society is a community in flux. Each iwi, hapu and whanau is striving for economic, social and cultural development in a world facing increasing environmental uncertainties. This essay has attempted to posit some of the potential futures for Maori, and one path – the green alternative – that perhaps offers a better future than traditional Western models of economic development offer. It is hoped that this essay spurs conversation and dialogue on this important issue.

Author's Note: The above article first appeared in the June issue of "Te Awa The River", the membership magazine of the Aotearoa NZ Green Party. Though the article appeared in a political magazine, it is hoped that the idea of a "green economics" approach for Maori development is viewed in a non-partisan sense and looked at by a range of agencies and iwi/hapu based organisations as an alternative to current models.


The Green Party

****** ENDS ******

ABOUT NAKED IN NUHAKA Leo Koziol ( writes essays on ecology, identity, culture, place and politics in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Nuhaka is located on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ.


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