Locked out of national parksA call to action from Kaiwhakahaere Tā Mark Solomon.

Oct 10, 2014

Note: A version of this speech was delivered by Tā Mark to the Co-governance and Co-management of Parks and Environments hui, held at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, June 2014.

Above: Aoraki at night.

Above: Aoraki at night.

I expect some of you heard my speech on indigenous rights within New Zealand national parks at the Inaugural World Indigenous Network Conference, held in Darwin last year.

In that speech I made the point that national parks are not viewed by indigenous peoples in the same way that they are viewed in the Western tradition – as places in which to be free and able to soak up vast amounts of natural beauty.

For the most part we have come to view them more as gated areas where we are obstructed from our customary practices, locked out from decision making, and held back from continuing our relationship with sites of deep spiritual or cultural significance.

Right around the world the strategy to conserve biodiversity through national parks and marine reserves continues to diminish or subvert the rights of indigenous people.

Indigenous people lose their right to manage their traditional resources, to live in and travel to places that they have traditionally lived in and travelled to, and to maintain a connection to their taonga (treasured and sacred) sites.

In New Zealand, there is more than an economic cost for conservation outcomes – there is a cost to iwi and hapū who are forced to endure cultural losses.

The indigenous advocacy organisation Cultural Survival states: “…in the past 150 years, more than 12 per cent of the world’s surface has been set aside through the establishment of some 100,000 protected areas… By some estimates, around 50 per cent of these protected areas encompass lands and territories traditionally occupied and used by indigenous peoples.” And yes, as you may guess, almost all these indigenous people lose all say and contact with what becomes to them locked up land.

I want to read you a quote from the indigenous delegates’ closing statement at the Fifth World Parks Congress (WPC), held in South Africa in September 2003. It is a little long but when I came across it while preparing for this presentation last week, I thought it very much summed up what is a recurring problem for First Nations around the world:

The declaration of protected areas on indigenous territories without our consent and engagement has resulted in our dispossession and resettlement, the violation of our rights, the displacement of our peoples, the loss of our sacred sites and the slow but continuous loss of our cultures, as well as impoverishment. It is thus difficult to talk about benefits for indigenous peoples when protected areas are being declared on our territories unilaterally. First we were dispossessed in the name of kings and emperors, later in the name of state development, and now in the name of conservation.

Tongariro, New Zealand’s first national park, was only able to be established because of a generous act by Tūwharetoa paramount chief Horonuku Te Heuheu, but that act has not led to the outcomes that he may well have imagined.

In its report on Tongariro National Park, the Waitangi Tribunal found that in 1887, Chief Horonuku Te Heuheu agreed to tuku (transfer) the mountains – te kāhui maunga – into joint trusteeship with the Crown. The same year, the Crown established Tongariro as
New Zealand’s first national park.

Historically, Te Heuheu’s gesture has been referred to as a gift. But the Tribunal found this was not an accurate description. The tuku was not an English-style gift of the mountains to the Crown but, rather, an offer of partnership with the Queen as joint trustee and custodian of the mountains. What is also disturbing is that only the peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and part of Ruapehu were part of the tuku. The remainder of the park has been established via other various forms of takings. As a result, both Tūwharetoa and the Whanganui tribes have been closely involved.

However, by the very act of establishing the national park, the Crown diminished the ability of the iwi of “Te Kāhui maunga” to manage their taonga.

The Tribunal concluded that the Crown had failed to honour either the Treaty partnership or the partnership offered by Te Heuheu, or the partnership of the Whanganui tribes who had happened to support the Crown during the New Zealand wars.

The Kāhui maunga people are not, in my view, afforded the significant status that they should have in managing this park.

Likewise, Aoraki is the ancestral mountain for all Ngāi Tahu, and while there is a tōpuni in place and enhanced input into management plans, this does not override or alter the non-indigenous framework overlaying this park and others within our takiwā.

[The] agreement [between Tūhoe and the Crown] is a beacon for the rest of Māori/iwi katoa who wish to reclaim access to our taonga and cultural assets in national parks.

As I pointed out last year, in New Zealand the exception is the agreement struck between Tūhoe and the Crown as part of the Tūhoe settlement. Under the agreement, Te Urewera National Park is no longer a national park but exists under its own legislation. Tūhoe and the Crown now partner in the management of the former park area in a manner intended to strengthen and maintain the connection between Tūhoe and their traditional lands.

That agreement is a beacon for the rest of Māori/iwi katoa who wish to reclaim access to our taonga and cultural assets in national parks.

Above: Mt Madeline reflected on Lake Alabaster.

Above: Mt Madeline reflected on Lake Alabaster.

My hope when I spoke in Darwin last year was that by now we might have established some significant conversations with the Crown about customary rights in national parks.

Given that this has not yet occurred, my speech today is a much louder call to action.

Iwi are ready for a discussion about a better way to manage and classify our rich natural environment. The Iwi Chairs Forum has established a group to focus on a range of related matters, including the reclassification of lands, and we will be expecting progress from the Crown.

So what exactly do we want to discuss? And what are the outcomes we are seeking?

National parks in English law are about conserving what is in existence – essentially biodiversity and beauty. This is not an iwi Māori approach. For Māori we want to have a living relationship with the natural environment. By being engaged with the environment we sustain ourselves and our identity.

Let me explain to you what I mean from a Ngāi Tahu perspective.

Our identity, our Ngāi Tahu identity, is very bound up in mahinga kai, the practice of collecting, preparing, and eating food.

Food brings us together. When our families go down to the Tītī Islands they are re-uniting. They often haven’t seen each other for a year and it is time to reaffirm family bonds, tell stories, pass on skills and traditions.

It is the tītī, the mutton birds, that we go to the islands for, but we gain much more than just birds to eat. We gain comradeship, we reconnect with our customs, our identity, our whakapapa.

Again, in the collecting of kaimoana (seafood) and the cooking in the wharekai, this is when we come together to unite, to re-live what it is to be us –
mahinga kai, manaakitanga.

This is why mahinga kai was a critical component of our Treaty Claim.

We called it the ninth tall tree. When we filed our claim with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986, it was presented in nine parts – the Nine Tall Trees of Ngāi Tahu. Each of the first eight trees represented a different area of land purchased from the tribe. The ninth tree represented Ngāi Tahu food resources – mahinga kai.

If we can’t engage in customary food gathering, preparation and eating, we risk losing touch with our Ngāi Tahu identity. So for us, the national parks within our takiwā are potential havens for such connection with identity. I say ‘potential’ havens because right now we are not in and part of these lands.

We believe that by practising our native customs within lands that we think of as national parks we add value to these places. We are part of the normal cycle of these environments – take us out and the normal cycle ceases to exist.

Another example concerns the making and preparing of kākahu. If we want to continue to clothe our people in traditional garments, then we must be able to access the materials.

Did you know that most of the Ngāi Tahu kiwi kākahu are in museums? What use are they to us there? If we can’t make new garments to replace worn out ones or ones in museums, then what do our mokopuna wear to graduation?

National parks are legacy entities. To us mahinga kai and the making of kākahu are legacy customs and the customs and the parks go hand in hand. Separate them and much is put at risk for us.

We believe that by practising our native customs within lands that we think of as national parks we add value to these places. We are part of the normal cycle of these environments – take us out and the normal cycle ceases to exist.

As it was for Tūhoe, the Treaty settlement process will be a good path for some iwi to reclaim their living, breathing engagement with the natural environment. But I believe other solutions will emerge also.

I think the Department of Conservation is also in a position to support the government in this discussion.

In the past year it has had to spend some time putting its modified house in order after significant budget cuts, but we are starting to see the new model emerge.

And in that new model, DoC has emphasised the need for better partnerships. I believe DoC Director General Lou Sanson is interested in genuine engagement that leads to an enhancement of our customary aspirations and desires. And I think this is also true of many of his staff.

DoC is taking some steps to genuinely advance the aspirations of iwi and is not adverse to some larger discussions. It may be that we can even look at similar issues that have arisen in other countries and see if any worthwhile solutions are on offer.

We may find some new ways of thinking about certain areas so that they remain both accessible and useful in a customary sense. DoC is about to embark on an assessment of stewardship lands.

Some of these lands will qualify to be added to existing national parks, but that doesn’t mean we have to lock the customary components of the land away.

What if we did something a bit more creative and instead of locking these lands up, we treated them as if they were national park areas, but with provision for customary practices.

In Canada for instance, the conflicts between the creation of parks and the need for indigenous people to continue their practices and access resources has been negotiated through co-management practices. Local people, particularly indigenous people, were given more say over national parks created in Canada in the 1980s. There is equal representation on park boards, but that is only the beginning of the process. Engagement with the natural environment is relished and encouraged at all levels and for at least one park, cultural hunting and harvesting rights are able to be exclusively practiced within that park by the First People of that land. Today Parks Canada acknowledge the importance of community involvement in order to sustain a healthy ecosystem. I like that idea, that indigenous communities are part of the ecosystem – not separate from it.

I also want to touch on the debate that is current about the role of private business in conservation areas. In some places around the world we have seen business as well as NGOs advocate for conservation areas without regard to what it means to indigenous groups, but that doesn’t have to be the case. And in fact, I think the opposite is true also. We are engaged with companies who are very interested in contributing to the public good, including the environment, and who wish to do it in a way that advances the aspirations of iwi/Māori.

I think there are two possibilities that DoC will face when approached by private business. In some cases they will be approached by companies looking to “acquire” the public good in national parks in order to profit from it. But DoC needs to be open to those companies who are values-based and are actually looking to invest in our special places to enhance the public good – to add value without exploitation. Iwi/Māori should be an essential part of all these conversations.

We are not about to allow our taonga within national parks to be “acquired”, but we are up for robust discussion about how to amplify the inherent value in national parks, so that the ecosystem is giving life and value – so that it becomes self-sustaining.

What use are our taonga species if there are so few of them in number that we can’t eat them? We want lands that sustain mahinga kai – we want our practices to flourish in lands that flourish. What we don’t want is for these flourishing lands to be locked up.

It remains the case that differences between iwi/Māori traditional conceptions of conservation and management of resources and the Western ethic of preservation enshrined in the Conservation Act remain a stumbling block. But a common road can be found.

The Waitangi Tribunal’s finding on a claim which concerned the place of Māori knowledge and intellectual property in New Zealand law and government practice is known commonly in New Zealand as Wai 262.

In its finding the tribunal concluded that New Zealand was at a crossroads in its race relations. It noted that on one hand a generation of hard work had seen the settlement of many historical Treaty grievances, and this had contributed to economic renewal for many iwi. On the other hand, Māori remain sidelined from decisions about key aspects of their culture.

Laws and policies in New Zealand still give others control over traditional knowledge, places, flora, and fauna that are significant to iwi and hapū identity. Although the laws fail to cater for it, Māori are connected to our intellectual property through our practices and traditions that are linked intrinsically to the resources in conservation lands including national parks.

Fortunately the Treaty means we don’t have to stand still and let this be the end to the matter. Both the Crown and Iwi can work together and act to treasure all links to identity, to enhance Māori identity, and to embrace the outcomes that will eventuate.

If we embrace co-governance and co-management, we are making a decision to sustain the identity of the people. Our national park lands will come to have broader meaning to the nation as a whole.