Improving the Global Environmental Rule of Law by Upholding Indigenous Rights: Examples from Aotearoa New Zealand

in Global Journal of Comparative Law
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A better recognition of the relationship between human rights and the environment facilitates good governance, holistic management and environmental justice. This relationship works two ways: the protection of the environment is necessary to uphold human rights and the protection of human rights is necessary to protect the environment. This article focuses on the latter aspect of this relationship, addressing in particular how the protection of indigenous rights can help protect the environment and contribute to better environmental management.

The relationships indigenous peoples have with the natural world, as well as their protective views in relation to its uses, often clash with the dominant worldviews espoused by nation states. The two can only be reconciled when governments make a concerted effort to incorporate indigenous thinking into law and policy. This article argues that it is in the interests of all peoples that they do so. When indigenous cosmologies are recognized and provided for, the benefits are felt far beyond indigenous communities and can help to generate better environmental outcomes for all peoples.

This article provides some examples from Aotearoa New Zealand, a nation which has consistently upheld (minority) indigenous Maori rights in legal and non-legal instruments. It will focus in particular on the incorporation of the Maori concepts of whanaungatanga (kinship) and kaitiakatanga (guardianship) into New Zealand law. The former envisages mankind as part of nature and nature as a ‘living ancestor’ to be revered, while the latter redefines humans (in particular, iwi or Maori tribal groups, hapu – tribal sub-groups – and whanau – family groups) as ‘guardians’ or stewards of the environment who carry certain responsibilities, rather than as managers who possess certain rights.