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Kaitiakitanga - it is our only hope

Dr Dan Hikuroa

· Auckland Climathon

In a Māori worldview because there is only one set of primal parents, all things are related and we exist in a kinship-based relationship with Te Taiao – the Earth, Universe and everything within it. Whakapapa is the central principle that orders Te Taiao.

Over centuries, Māori developed sustainable practices for the management of natural resources - kaitiakitanga. The concept and practice of kaitiakitanga played a crucial role in traditional Māori society, and is increasingly sought as a sustainability paradigm in contemporary settings.

As kaitiaki, Māori were responsible for ensuring the viability of land and resources for the following generations. Principles guided the practices, which were informed by mātauranga –knowledge, culture, values and world-view. Knowledge was generated via careful and rigorous observation, prediction, and experiment, from which guidelines and methods were developed to meet the needs and requirements of communities. Technology was fundamental. Kaitiakitanga was an obligation to act and care for one’s own, from within a whakapapa framing.

Nations and corporations are behaving in a way that is leading our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children into a bleak, unsustainable future that most of us don’t want.

The laws and governance systems justify their acts based upon Judeo-Christian ideals of dominion over all things, a Cartesian dualism of a nature and culture split that entrenches an illusion of separation and independence. For Descartes, the world was a mechanism, therefore precluding the possibility of entering into a relationship.

Thomas Berry states:

“This mechanistic view of the world as controlled by humans, for human advantage, sees the world as a vast assembly of natural resources put there for human use. With the vast extent of our knowledge and the power of our technologies came an arrogant assurance that we could manage any difficulty associated with our actions”.

It is hard to believe that in the past few centuries our species has been able to wreak such wanton destruction and havoc – all in the name of profit.

The details of what we are doing to Earth and the extent of the impacts on Earth, are complex. Some of the facts are controversial. However, it is obvious that humans are behaving in a manner that is destroying Te Taiao.

The dominant current paradigm isn’t working. We must start practicing kaitiakitanga, or at least bring a kaitiakitanga approach to bear.

Climathon Auckland seeks to find innovative solutions to powering growth in a low carbon way, with challenges ranging from how we generate and use energy, to how we travel. I suggest a first step should be to prioritise electric vehicles. About 80% of our electricity already comes from renewable sources.

A key contributor to anthropogenic global warming is green house gases, released through various activities including burning fossil fuels, agricultural practices and microbial decomposition in our rubbish dumps.

Whilst a faith that technology will solve all our issues is risky, and potentially flawed, there are already some amazing technologies that we could use to realise the Climathon Auckland challenge.

Technologies already exist that could turn our municipal waste, and waste products of agricultural, silvicultural (forestry) and various industrial processes into fuels to generate electricity, to charge the private and public transport fleet in Auckland.

A multi-million dollar research project that seeks to create wireless charging pads for electric vehicles is just about to start. Imagine the potential that could be unleashed.

An approach that combines such technologies within a kaitiakitanga paradigm, i.e. the obligation to act and care for one’s own (in this instance, Auckland), has amazing promise.

It will take commitment and investment in infrastructure, but it can be done. In fact, it must be done. As Nelson Mandela declared, “It’s always impossible - until it is done.”

I challenge everyone in Auckland: let’s get doing, together, with purpose and commitment, until the impossible is done.

Mauri ora.

Dr Dan Hikuroa is a Senior Lecturer in Māori Studies at the University of Auckland. He is also a Principal Investigator at Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga and at Te Pūnaha Matatini. Read more about Dan Hikuroa

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