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Indigenous Aspirations and Ecological Integrity: Restoring and Protecting the Health and Wellbeing of an Ancestral River for Future Generations in Aotearoa New Zealand

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Aotearoa New Zealand is known throughout the world for its beautiful scenery, but behind those scenes there are many stories of how, over time, human activities have degraded the health and wellbeing of our lands and waterways. The Indigenous Māori have long fought to defend the integrity of natural resources who do not have a voice of their own in the processes of law and policy making. Ecological integrity is an ethical concept that values the state of nature being whole and unimpaired such as might be found in places of wild nature, untouched by human exploitation. This paper seeks to provide a domestic example of the application of the environmental ethic of the indigenous Māori which ensures that humans are kaitiaki (guardians) of their surrounding environment by virtue of shared genealogy, and how this ethic is being applied to restore and protect the health and wellbeing of the Waikato River, New Zealand's longest. This particular river restoration project reflects many of the important aspects of ecological integrity. It serves, too, as a domestic example of the most sophisticated attempt at powersharing to date between Māori and the Crown in relation to natural resources, which may be of interest to other jurisdictions.

As soon as I came across the notion of ecological integrity, it struck a chord with me. The similarities with my own indigenous ways of viewing and valuing the environment were striking. According to a leading proponent of the ecological integrity discourse, Laura Westra, one of the most important aspects of integrity is the self-creative capacity of life to organize, regenerate and evolve over time at a specific location. In relation to water, another leading proponent, James R. Karr, has studied the spatial requirements that are needed to maintain native ecosystems. Ecological integrity, it is said, bridges the concerns of science and public policy. It also acknowledges the global connection between human health and the integrity of nature, and the rights of both. It is argued for instance that human health and function are both directly and indirectly affected by disintegrity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2011

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