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date: 05 December 2022

A Māori Approach to Environmental Economics: Te ao tūroa, te ao hurihuri, te ao mārama—The Old World, a Changing World, a World of Lightlocked

A Māori Approach to Environmental Economics: Te ao tūroa, te ao hurihuri, te ao mārama—The Old World, a Changing World, a World of Lightlocked

  • Matthew Rout, Matthew RoutNgāi Tahu Research Centre, University of Canterbury
  • Shaun Awatere, Shaun AwatereManaaki Whenua Landcare Research
  • Jason Paul Mika, Jason Paul MikaSchool of Management, Massey University
  • John ReidJohn ReidNgāi Tahu Research Centre, University of Canterbury
  •  and Matthew RoskrugeMatthew RoskrugeSchool of Economics and Finance, Massey University

Summary

Māori, the Indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, have an intrinsically environmental approach to economics. This approach—informed by the Māori worldview—was refined over the first millennium of inhabitation, before colonization brought the intrusion of Western institutions and the consequent involution of Māori institutions. Māori view humans as embedded within a wider nonhuman community of nature that is simultaneously spiritual and material. Māori understand “nature” as a unified spiritual-socioecology. Economics is just one facet of this whole, a facet fundamentally entwined with the whole such that all economic relationships have inherently social, spiritual, and ecological elements. At the core of Māori relationships with nature is the ethic of kaitiakitanga, or the act of guardianship over the spiritual-socioecology. Māori have a responsibility to actively care for their human and nonhuman community, to act with mana (authority and dignity), to respect nature’s tapu (sacredness), and to maintain nature’s mauri (life force). The Māori economy is underpinned by an integrated, nuanced, and adaptive framework of beliefs and institutions that constrains decision-making, ensuring the consideration of the human, nonhuman, and spiritual domains across time while simultaneously being calibrated toward delivering mutually beneficial outcomes within kin-group networks. This ensures that economic success does not come at the expense of other people, nature, or future generations. An economy based on a Māori worldview is, fundamentally, an environmental economy.

Following colonization, Māori suffered a loss of mana. Land was sold below market rate or stolen, and after massive deforestation and significant loss of native flora and fauna, Aotearoa New Zealand’s tapu was desecrated and its mauri reduced. In the mid- to late-20th century, Māori political activism and a resultant tribunal examining actions and omissions by the state during land acquisition resulted in Māori regaining mana. Consequently, Māori have overcome the drastic change in rights to their remaining land to act as kaitiaki (guardians) of this remaining land in ways both congruent with traditional practices (te ao tūroa) and adapted to changed context (te ao hurihuri). Māori have realigned the imposed governance structures of their organizations to reinstate their original focus on the intergenerational well-being of human and nonhuman communities, reinvigorating the influence of mana in business, and its capacity to create a virtuous circle. Māori have managed to thrive in the settler and global economy not despite their environmentally grounded economic approach, but because of it.

Subjects

  • Environmental Economics

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