Research Handbooks in Human Rights series
Edited by Anna Grear and Louis J. Kotzé
Chapter 14: Reflecting on cosmology and environmental protection: Maori cultural rights in Aotearoa New Zealand
This Chapter discusses ways in which law can be used to incorporate indigenous cosmologies within a Western society and legal system, and better protect the natural environment in the process. It first addresses indigenous beliefs about humans’ relationship with nature, and how the indigenous cosmology contrasts with dominant and prevailing Western and liberal ideas. The Chapter then explores examples of the recognition of the right of Maori to have their cosmology upheld in New Zealand (NZ) law. In order to understand the current position, the history of the Treaty of Waitangi is first explained, as is the mechanism adopted to address the Maori grievances arising from its many breaches by the NZ government. Next, different aspects of NZ law are addressed, from recognition of Maori interests and cosmology in mainstream resource management decision-making, to special arrangements designed specifically to implement Maori cosmology in the management of NZ’s natural resources. Two such special arrangements are focused on, ones that have recognized in law the Maori view that the natural environment should be treated more as a person rather than simply as a resource. The author suggests that such incorporation of Maori cosmology in the NZ legal system is altering mainstream constructions of nature through normalizing the indigenous constructions. Thus the protection of indigenous rights to culture and religion could better protect a healthy environment for everyone.
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