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.
Matthew Rout, Shaun Awatere, Jason Paul Mika, John Reid, and Matthew Roskruge
Indigenous rights to water follow diverse trajectories across the globe. In Asia and Africa even the concept of indigeneity is questioned and peoples with ancient histories connected to place are defined by ethnicity as opposed to sovereign or place-based rights, although many seek to change that. In South America indigenous voices are rising. In the parts of the globe colonized by European settlement, the definition of these rights has been in a continual state of transition as social norms evolve and indigenous capacity to assert rights grow. From the point of European contact, these rights have been contested. They have evolved primarily through judicial rulings by the highest court in the relevant nation-state. For those nation-states that do address whether indigenous rights to land and water exist, the approach has ranged from the 18th- and 19th-century doctrines of terra nullius (the land (and resources) belonged to no one) to a recognized right of “use and occupancy” that could be usurped under the doctrine of “discovery” by the conquering power. In the 20th and 21st centuries the evolution of the recognition of indigenous rights remains uneven, reflecting the values, judicial doctrine, and degree to which the contested water resource is already developed in the relevant nation-state. Thus, indigenous rights to water range from the recognition of cultural and spiritual rights that would have been in existence at the time of European contact, to inclusion of subsistence rights, rights sufficient for economic development, rights for homeland purposes, and rights as guardian for a water resource. At the forefront in this process of recognition is the right of indigenous peoples as sovereign to control, allocate, develop and protect their own water resources. This aspirational goal is reflected in the effort to create a common global understanding of the rights of indigenous peoples through declaration and definition of the right of self-determination articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Noa Kekuewa Lincoln and Peter Vitousek
Agriculture in Hawaiʻi was developed in response to the high spatial heterogeneity of climate and landscape of the archipelago, resulting in a broad range of agricultural strategies. Over time, highly intensive irrigated and rainfed systems emerged, supplemented by extensive use of more marginal lands that supported considerable populations. Due to the late colonization of the islands, the pathways of development are fairly well reconstructed in Hawaiʻi. The earliest agricultural developments took advantage of highly fertile areas with abundant freshwater, utilizing relatively simple techniques such as gardening and shifting cultivation. Over time, investments into land-based infrastructure led to the emergence of irrigated pondfield agriculture found elsewhere in Polynesia. This agricultural form was confined by climatic and geomorphological parameters, and typically occurred in wetter, older landscapes that had developed deep river valleys and alluvial plains. Once initiated, these wetland systems saw regular, continuous development and redevelopment. As populations expanded into areas unable to support irrigated agriculture, highly diverse rainfed agricultural systems emerged that were adapted to local environmental and climatic variables. Development of simple infrastructure over vast areas created intensive rainfed agricultural systems that were unique in Polynesia. Intensification of rainfed agriculture was confined to areas of naturally occurring soil fertility that typically occurred in drier and younger landscapes in the southern end of the archipelago. Both irrigated and rainfed agricultural areas applied supplementary agricultural strategies in surrounding areas such as agroforestry, home gardens, and built soils. Differences in yield, labor, surplus, and resilience of agricultural forms helped shape differentiated political economies, hierarchies, and motivations that played a key role in the development of sociopolitical complexity in the islands.
Botanic gardens came into existence in the late 1500s to document, study, and preserve plants originating from all over the world. The scientific field of botany was a direct outcome of these developments. From the 1600s onward, botanic gardens also paid key roles in acclimatizing plants across distinct ecosystems and respective climate zones. This often entailed the appropriation of Indigenous systems of plant expertise that were then used without recognition within the parameters of scientific botanical expertise. As such, botanic gardens operated as contact zones of unequal power dynamics between European and Indigenous knowledge systems. Botanic gardens were intimately embroiled with the global expansion of European colonialism and processes of empire building. They helped facilitate the establishment of cash-crop systems around the world, which effectively amounted to the extractive systems of plant wealth accumulation that characterize the modern European colonial enterprise. In the mid-20th century, botanic gardens began to take on leading roles in the conservation of plant biodiversity while also attending to issues of social equity and sustainable development. Relationships between lay expertise and scientific knowledge acquired renewed significance in this context, as did discussions of the knowledge politics that these interactions entailed. As a consequence of these transformations, former colonial exchanges within the botanical garden world between Indigenous knowledge practices and their appropriation by science came under scrutiny in the final decades of the 20th century. Efforts to decolonize botanic gardens and their knowledge practices emerged in the second decade of the 20th century.
In 1945 the Amazon biome was almost intact. Marks of ancient cultural developments in Andean and lowland Amazon had cicatrized and the impacts of rubber and more recent resources exploitation were reversible. Very few roads existed, and only on the Amazon’s periphery. However, from the 1950s, but especially in the 1960s, Brazil and some Andean countries launched ambitious road-building and colonization processes. Amazon occupation heavily intensified in the 1970s when forest losses began to raise worldwide concern. More roads continued to be built at a geometrically growing pace in every following decade, multiplying correlated deforestation and forest degradation. A no-return point was reached when interoceanic roads crossed the Brazilian-Andean border in the 2000s, exposing remaining safe havens for indigenous people and nature. It is commonly estimated that today no less than 18% of the forest has been substituted by agriculture and that over 60% of that remaining has been significantly degraded. Theories regarding the importance of biogeochemical cycles have been developed since the 1970s. The confirmation of the role of the Amazon as a carbon sink added some international pressure for its protection. But, in general, the many scientific discoveries regarding the Amazon have not helped to improve its conservation. Instead, a combination of new agricultural technologies, anthropocentric philosophies, and economic changes strongly promoted forest clearing. Since the 1980s and as of today Amazon conservation efforts have been increasingly diversified, covering five theoretically complementary strategies: (a) more, larger, and better-managed protected areas; (b) more and larger indigenous territories; (c) a series of “sustainable-use” options such as “community-based conservation,” sustainable forestry, and agroforestry; (d) financing of conservation through debt swaps and climate change’s related financial mechanisms; and (e) better legislation and monitoring. Only five small protected areas have existed in the Amazon since the early 1960s but, responding to the road-building boom of the 1970s, several larger patches aiming at conserving viable samples of biological diversity were set aside, principally in Brazil and Peru. Today around 22% of the Amazon is protected but almost half of such areas correspond to categories that allow human presence and resources exploitation, and there is no effective management. Another 28% or more pertains to indigenous people who may or may not conserve the forest. Both types of areas together cover over 45% of the Amazon. None of the strategies, either alone or in conjunction, have fully achieved their objectives, while development pressures and threats multiply as roads and deforestation continue relentlessly, with increasing funding by multilateral and national banks and due to the influence of transnational enterprises. The future is likely to see unprecedented agriculture expansion and corresponding intensification of deforestation and forest degradation even in protected areas and indigenous land. Additionally, the upper portion of the Amazon basin will be impacted by new, larger hydraulic works. Mining, formal as well as illegal, will increase and spread. Policymakers of Amazon countries still view the region as an area in which to expand conventional development while the South American population continues to be mostly indifferent to Amazon conservation.