(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

ĀteaNovember 3, 2021

Te taiao under threat: Indigenous voices speak up on climate change

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Ngā Pae o te Maramatanga, the Māori centre of research excellence, has published a major report on the impact of climate change on Māori communities to coincide with the Cop26 conference.

“I don’t know if these goals are designed with Indigenous communities in mind,” says Victoria University of Wellington astrophysicist Dr Pauline Harris (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Rakaipaka, Ngāti Kahungunu) of the government’s goals going into Cop26, the global climate change conference currently happening in Glasgow.

Harris is co-author of a new report released ahead of Cop26 that highlights the effects climate change will have on Māori communities in the coming years. Speaking on a Science Media Centre panel about the goals of Cop26, she shared findings from the report – ‘He huringa āhuarangi, he huringa ao: A changing climate’ – describing it as “a summary of observed and projected climate change impacts”.

The findings paint a picture of disruption to the centuries-long relationship Māori have had with te taiao, the natural world.

“A big part of that report was looking at the health and wellbeing of the environment,” Harris said. “We looked at key research that will impact on our worldview, like certain species made extinct once we go over three degrees.” She said some natives species of trees, for example, have seed dispersal mechanisms that can handle a change in temperature, and others simply can’t. The report predicts high extinction probability in alpine areas.

“For Māori we’re less humanistic in our thinking – it’s more of a holistic model where we’re part of the environment, and have different value weighting for all species on the planet,” Harris explained.

“Values inform how you write policy, what sort of research you do, your behaviours. So from a Māori perspective, having a more holistic view of the world where we are not central, we are one part, then informs your care for the environment.”

Harris noted that what affects Māori affects the whole country. Fire risks and changing or depleted fish species, for example, will have impacts on Māori business and enterprise, with flow-on effects to the rest of Aotearoa.

Dr Pauline Harris. (Image: MacDiarmid Institute)

The report looked at effects on specific areas of land, from high alpine areas to the oceans, and included research reflecting Māori perspectives on those key areas. “We looked at the higher risk of invasive species, the impacts of kauri dieback and myrtle rust with increasing temperatures,” Harris said. “We’ve been polluting our environment for years – putting stress on other species, reducing their biodiversity and their genetic capability to be able to survive and be more resilient.”

One major impact of climate change on traditional knowledge is its effect on the maramataka or lunar calendar. Maramataka uses observances of the natural world, such as when different species of fish spawn, bird calls are heard or flowers appear, the phases of the moon and seasonal weather patterns. This rhythm with nature is still widely used and traditionally informed Māori when to plant, when to harvest, when to fish and when to stop gathering certain species for regeneration, as well as possible effects of the moon and seasons on energy and mood. It also encompasses whakapapa ties to deities and all living creatures.

“Our cultural practices and cultural knowledge are around the observations of the environment and our engagement with the environment, like our fishing practices,” said Harris. “The maramtaka has already been affected by what we’ve done to the environment. All our observances are out, our practices are now out of whack with the time of year.

“We’ve already seen changes in weather patterns and people who are in tune with the environment, who do the gardening, or are always in the forest, always on the ocean – they have different data, different values. They’re seeing the changes to our maramataka firsthand.”

An open letter from OraTaiao, the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, last week called for Jacinda Ardern to “proactively place Indigenous and marginalised voices at the centre of Cop26”.

Indigenous peoples have been making this request of the UN climate conference for many years now. Climate activist India Logan-Riley (Ngāti Kahungunu), a veteran of Cop at only 26, delivered a blistering challenge to delegates last week at the opening summit in Glasgow.

“Before we embark on these negotiations, it’s important to reflect on how we ended up in this room,” they said, before giving a potted history of colonialist expansion, land theft and extraction of resources in Aotearoa.

India Logan-Riley addresses the opening summit of Cop26 (Image: United Nations Youtube)

As part of a wider network of Indigenous delegates, Logan-Riley who first attended in 2017 with Te Ara Whatu, the rangatahi Māori delegation, has had to navigate the tricky power structures of Cop – a system, they told The Spinoff in 2017, that “has not been designed for Indigenous participation”.

Nevertheless, at Cop26 this week they reiterated the unique leadership of Indigenous climate action and the power it has.

“In the US and Canada alone, Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least a quarter of annual emissions. What we do works.”

Calling climate change “the final outcome of the colonial project”, Logan-Riley ended with a challenge to the conference: “Learn our histories, listen to our stories, honour our knowledge, and get in line or get out of the way.”

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox

Ātea