Talking Past Each Other: A Māori Ontology of Intergenerational Environmental Justice

Stream: Panel 61 - Environmental Politics: Environmental Justice 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


Some environmental philosophers contest the idea of intrinsic value in nature. Other philosophers contest the validity of intergenerational justice. When these contested concepts are enmeshed in policy and law, the living heirs of some indigenous ontologies and epistemologies are disenfranchised, diminished and recolonised. My research argues the Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) Māori concepts of mauri (life force), tapu (potentiality to be, dignity), mana (prestige, respect) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) offer insights into resolving issues of intergenerational environmental justice, and simultaneously advancing intergenerational indigenous environmental justice. However, as is demonstrated by the High Court case Te Whanau a Apanui (Apanui) versus the Crown, the existing post-colonial governance structures in NZ create little space for such ontological transference. The government’s desire to realise revenue from mineral resources conflicts with Apanui’s obligations and duties to protect and enhance the environment for future generations, exposing fundamental ontological and epistemological differences. While the government focuses on ‘ownership’ of resources, and maximising returns, Apanui value guardianship and sustainability more highly. As Apanui attempt, through court action, to reverse government mining initiatives, these differences are starkly exposed. So utterly are they different the parties simply talk past each other. These dynamics are explored through the court case, revealing the fundamental disconnect between Euro-centred government and legal structures and Apanui, and the limitations placed on Apanui’s freedom to fulfil obligations and duties as kaitiaki (guardians). Where Māori meet the regulation, law and philosophy of the dominant post-colonial political machine ontologies collide and nature, culture and future generations are impoverished.


Christine Winter (Presenter), University of Sydney
A University of Sydney PhD candidate, Christine's research is located at the intersection of intergenerational, environmental and indigenous justice. Liberal justice theories struggle to elucidate a robust intergenerational environmental justice. Some or many indigenous peoples express no such struggle: practices of intergenerational environmental justice are woven into their life ways. Her thesis examines the limitations liberal theory places on imaginings of justice for future generations, the environment and post-colonial communities of some indigenous peoples. She explores ways cultural perceptions alter the conceptualisation of intergenerational environmental justice, drawing examples Australian Aboriginal, Aoteoroa New Zealand Māori and Ecuadorian and Bolivian Amerindian peoples.