What do person rights for nature do for indigenous rights? New legal relations and old problems in Te Urewera, Aotearoa New Zealand

Authors: Brad Coombes*, School of Environment, The University of Auckland
Topics: Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: indigenous rights
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Aotearoa has recently attracted attention for granting water and landscapes the person/al rights of human beings. Within a few years, four national parks will have been granted their own legislation that personifies Maori-landscape relations in ways that are intended to afford them greater protection, respect and dignity. It remains unclear, however, whether these new understandings of the rights of nature, indigenous peoples and collectively as legalised kin will be enforceable or effective for the Treaty of Waitangi claimants whose original activism prompted legal experimentation. In Te Urewera, Maori land claims were a response to legal and cultural suppression, comprehensive land loss, and monocultural policies that inflicted contemptible social justice impacts upon Ngai Tuhoe. Is today’s framing of nature as a person an appropriate resolution to such a troubled, colonial past? It is moot whether giving person rights to the ancestral territory and preferred landscapes of Tuhoe can realise tribal members’ own rights, especially as the state’s insistence on strict protectionism and preservationism means that few Tuhoe will ever live on their homelands. Moreover, past acts of personifying nature have marginalised indigenous peoples, framing them as forest denizens who privilege environmental over developmental interests. Resolving a long history of state-Tuhoe conflict requires a reconceptualization of conservation and development, but the Te Urewera Act 2014 represents a new trajectory for old preservationism.

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