Associate Professor Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) from the Faculty of Law has recently joined Associate Professor Maria Bargh (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) from Te Kawa a Māui as co-leader of the Adaptive Governance and Policy branch of New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. The purpose of this branch of the Challenge is to see the knowledge and values of mana whenua (those with authority over the land) recognised, and to have input to decisions affecting biological heritage.
The researchers reviewed a decade of Waitangi Tribunal reports and discovered 12 out of 18—or 67 percent—“focused on the degradation of a resource due to governance and policy failures”. Half found the Resource Management Act (RMA) was inconsistent with Te Tiriti, and 78 percent recommended co-governance arrangements.
The landmark Waitangi Tribunal report regarding guardianship over cultural and natural taonga is the Wai262 report, which government received in 2011, but only formally responded to in 2019.
“The Crown is proposing three work streams to address the issues in Wai262—one dealing with taonga [creative] works and mātauranga Māori, one dealing with Kaupapa Aorere [international agreements and issues], and one dealing with taonga species and mātauranga Maōri, which is what we are focused on in the Challenge,” says Associate Professor Jones.
Associate Professor Bargh adds, “Strengthening the Tiriti partnership is key to enabling Māori to continue fulfilling their kaitiaki [stewardship] obligations towards the whenua and will have additional positive impacts in many areas, including for adapting to and mitigating climate change.”
The academics’ briefing to the Ministers includes eight general findings around the needs, opportunities, and issues in the current RMA system. It also includes a series of specific recommendations on questions to consider when reviewing the RMA and other Acts.
“We have analysed mana whenua perspectives from numerous submissions and reports where they have provided views about natural resource governance and management to successive governments and Waitangi Tribunal hearings,” says Associate Professor Bargh.
“To ensure a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon, biodiversity-rich economy in Aotearoa, where climate and communities are protected, a rebalancing of power needs to be at the core of decision making.”
Associate Professor Jones adds, “Transitioning to such an economy, in partnership with mana whenua, would come with huge benefits, including the restoration of our environment, reducing our adverse impacts on the climate, supporting moves to a more just and equitable society, and strengthening the Tiriti relationship.
“It is hard for the current system to be adaptive, as it is continuously recommending and finding the same things but with little or no change. We need the Government to take adaptive and responsive action to care adequately for our biological heritage.”