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Indigenous people are original environmentalists

Indigenous people are the original environmentalists

Hon Tariana Turia, Maori Party Environment spokesperson                 4 July 2008

Tangata whenua are ideally placed to lead local environmental projects because of the strength and integrity of traditional environmental values, says the Maori Party.

“Tangata whenua were environmentalist before the government or environmental groups even existed in Aotearoa,” said Tarina Turia, environment spokesperson for the party.

“In stark contrast is the agreement by the Conservation Department to allow a marina developer at Whangamata to remove rare skinks from their natural habitat before it gets destroyed by bulldozers,” she said. “The occupation led by tangata whenua confirms that they utterly reject that approach,” she said.

“The department ended up in this position by looking at the individual skinks, in isolation from their natural habitat and ecosystems,” said Mrs Turia. “They allowed the developer to catch the skinks, and take them somewhere else, so they wouldn’t get squashed as the salt marsh gets paved over for boat trailer parking.”

“But those skinks belong there and nowhere else. They are part of that place – just as tangata whenua themselves are part of their landscape. The skinks are living links to an ancestral, indigenous landscape. Their disappearance would be evidence that those links have been broken – whether the developer removed the skinks, or squashed them, is beside the point.

“Tangata whenua understand this because conservation is in our traditional culture, it’s in our blood, our flesh and our bones,” said Mrs Turia.

“Our people also understand what it’s like to be translocated away from our turangawaewae. The occupation at Whangamata follows a tradition of tangata whenua reoccupying and reclaiming places they have been removed from – including Te Kopua in Raglan, Takaparawha or Bastion Point, and Pakaitore in Whanganui.

“Although those campaigns were led by tangata whenua on their own land, they have resulted in public benefit, through protection of natural and recreational spaces, some under joint management with public bodies.

“Let us hope that tangata whenua leadership of the occupation at Whangamata can achieve the same positive outcomes – maintaining public access to the foreshore and seabed, and the natural heritage and historical values of the area, in accordance with the tikanga Maori of rangatiratanga and manaakitanga.

“In a similar way, the emergence of the Maori Party is also part of that tradition, of reclaiming space from which our tupuna were marginalised – in our case, it’s about tangata whenua taking our rightful place in the political arena,” said Mrs Turia.


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