In recognition of the Māori worldview, New Zealand granted rights to a forest, river, and mountain. Could this lead to better protection of nature and ultimately save humanity?
Contributes to achieving the following UN Sustainable Development Goals:
As we drive in our campervan through New Zealand’s countryside, we pass countless meadows with grazing sheep and cows. When we see trees, they are often part of immense plantations made up exclusively of non-native pine trees. It’s no surprise: the meat, dairy, and forestry industries are big business in New Zealand. Nature has to pay the price: biodiversity is low in these parts of the country. Where trees have been felled, a desolate landscape remains. “Once there was native forest here, teeming with life. What gives us the right treat nature like this?” Floris sighs. “It’s called progress”, Ivar responds, “at least according to the Western worldview.” Yet the consequences of centuries of looting nature can no longer be denied. Climate breakdown and the loss of biodiversity even threaten the survival of humanity. “You could even go as far as to say that the Western worldview is at the root of the challenges we are facing today”, Ivar sombrely adds. Would things improve if another worldview became more dominant, we wonder?
A Green Oasis
We soon get our answer. As we drive on, the monotonous pines abruptly make room for a huge variety of different trees, shrubs, and plants. We are engulfed by a sea of countless shades of green. “This is native forest”, Ivar rejoices. He slows down as the asphalt turns to gravel and the road becomes narrow and winding. “Let’s camp here and continue tomorrow”, Floris suggests. A dirt road leads to an open spot in the middle of the forest, where the birdsong is almost deafening. A stream with crystal clear water completes the picture-perfect setting. “This is what all of New Zealand must have looked like once”, Ivar muses.
We are in the middle of Te Urewera nature reserve, in the east of New Zealand’s North Island. The area is home to the Tūhoe, a Māori iwi (tribe). For centuries, they resisted British rule. Could that be the reason why nature is so pristine here?
Guardians of Nature
“We can’t own nature, we’re part of it”, Holly solemnly starts. We are at Te Urewera’s visitor centre, where Holly, a Tūhoe member, kindly answers our questions about the area. We don’t realise it at that very moment but with that sentence Holly turns our worldview completely upside down. She continues: “Nature is there when we are born, while we are alive, and after we die. We humans are just the kaitiaki, the guardians of nature. We must pass it on in a good condition to future generations.”
"We belong to the land, not the other way around."