I often hear the words ‘climate change’ thrown about a lot. I am no expert and I admit it can be hard to understand. I can walk away from a typical chat at times vaguely retaining something along the lines of, more of the sun’s rays are being trapped in by the earth’s atmosphere which will increase temperatures globally (ie ‘global warming’). This melts ice and then sea levels rise. Consequently, climates change.
It can be harder still to interpret what that means for my iwi.
When I look out towards our whenua, it really is the sort of beauty you’d expect to find on a tourist’s postcard. I look and know I am from the best place on earth. Sometimes you can’t even see your neighbours but you do see lots of trees. In some parts we still don’t have traffic lights, let alone sealed roads. You’d forgive us for thinking that climate change hasn’t really affected us, yet.
But, I worry that Māori will likely be affected by the choices of others. Choices which stem from how they view the environment. Māori identities are expansive and we are our taiao. Climate change may change our identities.
I worry that Māori will likely be affected by the choices of others. Choices which stem from how they view the environment. Māori identities are expansive and we are our taiao. Climate change may change our identities
I feel hopeful where indigenous knowledge around the world is increasingly important in affecting how humankind (including law and lawyers) combat climate change. The western ‘egocentric’ worldview is challenged by an indigenous ‘ecocentric’ worldview.
What I thought might be helpful is to share first, a couple of things I see with analysis and then second, some whakaaro on how this is relevant to law and climate change.
In short, the choice to be a lawyer (however motivated) is a loaded choice to be a kaitiaki. It is a choice obligated towards meaningful law reform with an appetite for a legal commitment to Wai, water and Papa, land.
I take this approach because the whenua I look out upon is the whenua my tupuna looked upon, lived upon and hoped upon. We all have tupuna and we all have whenua to whom we belong.
I believe that when any person adopts this worldview wholeheartedly, they can experience moments of what I call ‘seeing through the eyes of the tupuna.’
In te ao Māori, there are incredibly rare people born like this. It is by virtue primarily of their whakapapa, mana tupuna and mana atua. They are part of a very rare and tapu group Māori often call matakite. I have the honour (and at times burden) of being a matakite. I will be the first to tell you that the english translation of ‘seer’ doesn’t even come close to its true meaning. For now, know we exist and navigate worlds and knowledge most people never will.
It is at this point that I mihi to a particular matakite and tohunga ruahine, Dr Rangimārie Turuki Arikirangi Rose Pere of Tūhoe, Ngāti Ruapani and Ngāti Kahungunu.
Her passing on 13 December 2020 is a massive loss for all Māori and the wider hāpori of Aotearoa. Matakite and tohunga are both critical to the maintenance and development of expansive identities, sacred knowledge, ways of knowing and so much more. Some of us still don’t know that the government once sought to suppress and demonise these positions in society.
I’ll never forget the story I heard that when she worked at the ministry of education colleagues told her that education was about “assimilation of your people.” She fought the good fight, she was the one who could. She believed we were all esteemed people until we proved otherwise.
E kui, nui kē te aroha. Ka ū ki te manako titiro atu ai, hei miringa ngākau mārū.
Most powerful woman, our love for you is still indeed great. We will hold to the hope of seeing, to ease our hearts.
The first place I look is one of my awa, Ohinemuri. A beautiful awa in Hauraki. I see her, Hinererewai, my Atua Wahine, flowing over the rocks in the Karangahake gorge. She works in unison with her parents to form the deep currents from clean water sources. She eases the body, mind and unsurprisingly, the wairua of anyone who rests in her gentle flow. She is intelligent and has a memory.
Ngā ngā kia ngā, ki te rere. Resting resting, with the flow.
Accordingly, my first whakaaro is around Wai. Water. Without her, we die. Fast. We know that. We also know that millions die every year from water related diseases. From this perspective, nobody can deny her importance.
In one iwi tradition, there is an entire chant around water and its connections to the origins of the universe. It is taught at an early stage to new initiates on their path to becoming tohunga. That iwi is not alone in their approach. Such an approach affirms her mana, the mana of water and its importance to the ongoing physical and spiritual wellbeing of iwi Māori.
Broader still, what some may not know is that water salinity is a real problem for our Pasifika whanaunga. That’s because rising sea levels mix salt water with the groundwater areas, which shrinks drinking water reserves and makes it harder to irrigate agricultural land. In some places, high levels of salinity have ‘poisoned’ the ground and made it infertile for years.
How is that discussion relevant to the law and climate change?
I look back at the passing of the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017. I think as a piece of legislation it is very successful because it recognised the legal personality of an awa. The keyword is recognised. The statute did not create legal personality. Our various awa have always had a legal personality. In fact, in times past, they dictated how lots of iwi lived, not the other way around.
If you won’t take it from me consider this, Ngāhuia Murphy, a respected Māori academic has quite aptly described the menstrual flow of Wāhine Māori as ‘Te Awa Atua’. I’ll repeat that again, Te Awa Atua. It’s an Awa. An Awa of life. An Awa of the gods. If the cycles of life, birth and death being tied up with awa do not affirm for you how important awa are for Māori, I suspect nothing will convince you of their longstanding and persisting mana and legal personality.
Ngā wai pūwhero o Hauraki.
The chiefly, red, menstrual waters of Hauraki; the source of authority and life.
I look forward. In choosing to be lawyers, we have an absolute duty to the Court. But if there is no water, there are no people and there is no Court. Naturally, there needs to be a fundamental kaitiaki obligation of law and lawyers to water. We could recognise a ‘Law of Wai’. We should.
I say a ‘Law of Wai’ because I know other iwi Māori have many different origins of water with one example immediately coming to mind being Wainuiātea. I suspect Wai often remains the common denominator. I submit if more acts recognise the legal personality of water, alongside the physical and the spiritual/metaphysical aspects, how we treat Wai can meaningfully change. Then consequently, climate change is taken more seriously and we know part of what we are fighting for: Water. Clean drinkable water.
We should not forget salt water or the moana too. How we treat our seas has an impact on the rest of the world. Not to mention, for an area like mine in Hauraki that is yet to reach settlement. You might be surprised how enthusiasm may build if the Crown offered to pass a Tikapa Moana Act in consultation with our 12 iwi and other interested iwi. But I simply leave the thought here for the people of my kuia, my people, aku aute tē awhea.
Ko Wai au. Ko Wairua au. I am Water. I am Spirit.
The second place I look is Papatūānuku. She’s beneath my house. She is beneath the trees and the roads, many wharenui and city apartment blocks. I see her, another of my Atua Wāhine, providing the very land we walk on. She works in unison with Ranginui and their tamariki to prevent us from being exposed to space and certain death. She gives stability to all. Unsurprisingly, the mauri of any person who rests against her often becomes what is called mauri tau. She is intelligent and has a memory.
E Papa, tukuna te aroha me te māramatanga, kia tika te haere ki te mata otō te whenua. Papa, please grant to us care and understanding, so that we may live right on the face of your earth, the place of ourbirth.
Accordingly, my second whakaaro is around Papa. Whenua. Land. Without her above the seas, where do we live? Beneath the sea? On ships? We give up a number of comforts. We even give up that nice place to lie in the shade. We know that. We all know we need a place to live and sleep; whether you have a house or not. We also know that you don’t make more land. She just is. From this perspective, nobody can deny her importance.
In choosing to be lawyers, we have an absolute duty to the Court. But if there is no water, there are no people and there is no Court. Naturally, there needs to be a fundamental kaitiaki obligation of law and lawyers to water
Without Papatūānuku there is no Tāne, there is no Tāwhaki, there is no Tūmatauenga, Tiki or Kupe. More importantly there is no Hineahuone and certainly no Hinererewai, Kuramārōtini or Ohinemuri. Without her, Māori do not exist. You don’t have an Aotearoa to call home. That reality affirms her mana, the mana of land and its importance to the ongoing physical and spiritual wellbeing of iwi Māori.
Broader still, what some may not know is that increasing land scarcity is a real problem for some of our Pasifika whanaunga. It’s those rising sea levels. I think immediately of Kiribati. That’s because their islands in some cases are mere meters above sea level. Current estimates indicate that the islands may be uninhabitable in a matter of decades. Their population: around 117,000.
Think Lower Hutt or Dunedin. Or think both Rotorua and Whangārei. Under the sea.
How is that relevant to the law and climate change?
I look back at the passing of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019. I think as a piece of legislation it is very successful in that it gave a much needed update to the Climate Change Response Act 2002. Its amendment to the purpose of the 2002 Act is in my view in complete alignment with what it should have always intended. The keyword is alignment.
This amendment aligned its purpose with a need for clear and stable climate change policies. That need has always existed for Papatūānuku and iwi Māori. Now I don’t know how the Tiriti provision under 3A is working out in reality, but, whenua requires any response to come from at least a place of respect and collaboration. Papatūānuku is not something to be experimented with. He atua ia. She is an all powerful god. In times past, she completely dictated how iwi lived and where. Call that ‘ecocentric’ if you like, but again, we don’t make land. She just is.
If you won’t take it from me, consider an interview by E-Tangata in 2019 with Pania Newton, an activist and wahine toa; who you should know from SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) and protests at Ihumātao. She explains that it was her placenta and her mother’s placenta which drove a want in her to protect her tūrangawaewae, her whenua. What you may not know is that whenua doesn’t just mean land. It also means placenta. The two words are bound, deliberately and naturally. The word reflects reality. Pania explains that changing the landscape at Ihumātao impacts her identity. She is inseparable from her whenua.
She’s not alone. Māori are our taiao; our whenua, our maunga, our awa and more. We tell people this whenever we recite our pepeha. It is very common for Māori to form an early attachment and relationship with Papatūānuku because of the burying of their placenta at an appropriate time after they are born. I know where my placenta is buried. I’m not much of a protester, truly, but I think I would rather die than let my whenua be violated. I don’t even think they’ll ever be able to sell that land you know. It wouldn’t be tika. It wouldn’t feel right in my puku. The hope is one day, the singular lens that has led to commodifying land shouldn’t feel right in your puku because it isn’t.
Mā te wahine, mā te whenua, ka ngaro ai te tangata. For women and for land, men will die.
I look forward. If there is no land, then life as we know it simply can not be. Naturally, there needs to be a fundamental kaitiaki obligation of law and lawyers to land. We could recognise a ‘Law of Papatūānuku’. We should.
This wouldn’t even be completely original. Consider the ‘Law of Pachamama’ in Bolivia. Read its 10 Articles. Have a think. It may seem out of reach to you and yet I’m still unaware of a single time in our modern Courts’ history that Papatūānuku forms a part of our unwritten constitution. I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen one yet. For a lawyer to seriously ask if she even should, is part of the problem. I would even say that thinking is a reflection of continuing colonial oppression.
Why? Because a constitutional change wouldn’t be original either if you looked to Ecuador. There the ecosystem can even have proceedings initiated on its behalf; e.g. the 2019 Llurimagua case. Read articles 71 to 74 of their constitution regarding rights of nature. Have a think.
I concede they have a written constitution, but there’s nothing really stopping us from taking steps. A real commitment to Te Tiriti, is one made to tangata whenua and whenua. That should be obvious. That certainly gives us every reason to take steps.
Both Ecuador and Bolivia were influenced by powerful indigenous groups, their traditions, spirituality and worldview in making these reforms. We are bijural, that’s part of our legal whakapapa. We need to start reflecting that in how we conceive being a ‘lawyer’ and what is required. If you walk away from this article wondering if Wai or Papa matters in your practice, you’re missing the point. Alongside billing, research, drafting, meetings or courtwork, seeking meaningful law reform is simply another obligation of what lawyers must do.
My hope is we will do it with an adventurous spirit, some creativity and genuine collaboration with iwi Māori.
I submit if more acts or even a higher law recognised the legal personality of land and its supremacy, how we treat whenua can meaningfully change. Then consequently, we know another part of what we are fighting for: Land; a place to live and sleep; a place to call home.
We should not forget maunga too. How we treat our mountains has an impact on our awa and whenua. To put it simply, water and anything else, flows downhill. Not to mention, for an area like mine in Te Tai Rawhiti you might be surprised how enthusiasm may build if the Crown offered to pass a Hikurangi Maunga Act in consultation with our various iwi, including certainly the 52 hapū of Ngāti Porou and other interested iwi. But I simply leave the thought here again for the people of my koro, my people, aku wīwī nati.
“E Hika! He Ao! He Ao! He Aotea! He Aotearoa!”
My love! A cloud! A cloud! A white cloud! A long white cloud!
I close with what I was told were the words shouted by the wahine Kuramārōtini to Kupe on seeing this country. She named this country. Abel Tasman and Captain Cook weren’t even born, let alone heard of yet. It was subsequently called New Zealand.
Special thanks goes out to both Te Hira Pere, Katarina Riini-Ehau and their respective whānau. He mihi mō te tautoko o te tuhinga nei, ka pakaru, ka pakari, ka paki te rangi.