Dr Maria Bargh

Maria Bargh

In the new BWB text A Careful Revolution, Dr Maria Bargh argues for a tika approach to climate change action. Maria has a Te Arawa and Ngāti Awa whakapapa and she is a senior lecturer and the tumuaki of the School of Māori Studies at Victoria University. Here she talks with Dale about her concerns over the Crown’s habit of ignoring or undervaluing Māori views.


Kia ora, Maria. Can you tell us how you came to be seriously concerned about climate change in the first place?

Well, I guess we’re all generally concerned about climate change, especially when we see the things that are happening in our communities. Coastal erosion. Flooding events that are meant to be one-in-one-hundred-year events that come several times a year.

It’s those sorts of things that make me concerned. And the inaction from governments also makes me concerned.

We’ve currently got a Zero Carbon Bill before parliament and, reading through it, one of the worries that I have is that Māori aren’t front and centre in terms of the thinking or the decision-making in that particular proposal.

And you’ve put some of those ideas into this new book that’s just been published, A Careful Revolution, about what the government would need to do to achieve a tika transition to a low-emissions future.

Yes. And the questions I ask are: What would be a tikanga Māori way of going about transitioning to a low-emissions society? What would we need to do if we were using tikanga as a lens through which to assess policies relating to the climate?

There are lots of questions to ask around whanaungatanga and how we protect future generations in the kinds of policies we’re setting up now. And we all know about our kaitiakitanga responsibilities — how we need to be guardians.

The other one for me is utu: how we’re going to balance some of the risks, the costs and benefits of climate change policies, as we transition to a lower emissions economy. What do we need to change, and who’s going to be vulnerable?

I think our own Māori tikanga provides the best framework in thinking about these things.

So, I hope that the government starts to take greater care when they’re thinking through these policies and involve Māori more at a decision-making level and as Treaty partners.

Have you got some examples that you might point to, of how a tika approach could be interwoven into the solutions we need?

Well, some of the proposals in the bill are for plans. Like, an emissions reduction plan and a climate adaptation plan.

It seems very basic but, co-developing those plans with Māori, involving a variety of Māori voices in the design and the development of those plans, as Treaty partners, would seem to me to be a key first step in acknowledging our Treaty rights, our mātauranga Māori, and the fact that we are the indigenous people here and have a key role to play in shaping how things are going to go forward.

So, I think that’s a key starting point.

But, also, there’s a proposal for a Climate Change Commission. And some people are suggesting that we just need particular types of scientists and experts on there — and what would Māori know about that?

Well, we actually have our own science, mātauranga Māori, which can inform these debates. That’s not just knowledge about different species that are indigenous to Aotearoa. Mātauranga Māori is also about the methods we use — how we know things and how we value things and the sorts of values that underpin our knowledge about this place, our own country.

And so I think it’s important to have in that Climate Change Commission people who have the mātauranga Māori knowledge. It’s also vital that there are Māori on there who are specifically representing Māori interests, not just providing advice about mātauranga. The government needs to have the Treaty partner in there.

The Treaty relationship needs to underpin the Climate Change Commission — and in fact, all the commissioners should be bound by Treaty obligations, such as to actively protect Māori rights.

So, you’re thinking the Crown, perhaps even in our lifetime, might accept that our Māori people have equal status as a Treaty partner, that we’re not just another in a number of stakeholders. Are you seeing any genuinely encouraging signs of that, or do you think the Crown will still keep us at arms-length here?

Well, I don’t see any encouraging signs in the Zero Carbon Bill as it’s currently written. But it’s before the select committee in parliament, so if people out there would like to add their voice, they should go online and put in a submission.

But we all know that process is a little flawed as well, because politicians at the end of the day will make the decisions, sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes not really for the right reasons.

But we can see encouraging signs in other areas.

Some councils are doing really well at partnering with the iwi in their area and working closely with those iwi around climate change. And, of course, Rotorua is one of those places — Te Arawa have a climate change working group working with the council there to drive that work along. Mike Smith is working for the Iwi Chairs’ Forum and brings a wealth of expertise from his mahi with Greenpeace. Tina Ngata is working hard on the East Coast, and nationally and internationally, to draw attention to climate change effects and the politics of it all.

There are iwi people like Nicki Douglas at Te Arawa, Tina Ngata and others who are taking on some of this load and showing the way forward in how we can have true Treaty relationships.

And I think they’re examples that should be taken into account when the bill is being re-analysed.

I detect a sort of climate change fatigue among some people who perhaps feel they’ve had the concept of zero carbon emissions rammed down their throats. And I get the feeling some think that the issue is too big for them to have any real impact.

How prevalent is this, and do you sense a strong commitment to change within your academic friends or our politicians? Or do you sense too that it’s just too hard in some ways — maybe even too remote from Joe Public. What do you make of where we’re at?

Well, I do think people need to get really upset and anxious, because we’re facing the end of the world as we know it. Things are pretty dire.

What could we possibly do? Well, we can make a difference in our own lives and in our own ways. I think if we come back to some of our basics as Māori, we can find some answers.

We have our kaitiakitanga roles — our responsibility to our bush, whenua, waterways, to our people, hapū and iwi. How can we do this really well? What are the opportunities that are out there for us? How can we support our communities?

Some of those things might be in the biosecurity space. At the moment our native plants and animals and birds are facing threats from introduced pests. As climate changes become more erratic, we’ll have explosions in pest populations, such as the rat population — which we’re seeing already this year.

How can we take very local examples like that and do something to protect our birds and bush?

Really, those little examples that people can get involved in, where they can make changes locally, are the kinds of things that we can do on a personal level and they do make a difference.

In terms of climate change, globally, that’s a much bigger picture, and New Zealand features as only a tiny part in that. But, again, we still need to play our part and put pressure on politicians to set in place targets and incentives to reduce our emissions.

So, I think it’s about looking for the examples where we can make a difference, and where we can have some hope and optimism about the work that we can put in.

There’s a saying: A little bit from me, a little bit from you and the iwi as well. What sort of changes have you made in your own life, Maria, that others could do likewise?

Actually, I gave the pest example because I’m working on a predator-free project at Horohoro in Rotorua with my hapū Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuarā. I’ve been out there trying to get rid of some possums, rats and ferrets, and bring back some birds to the Horohoro maunga.

There are other things to do such as reduce how much you fly, nationally and internationally. We’re seeing more hybrid or electric vehicles. At the moment, most of us can’t afford those — they’re pretty expensive. But watching to see when those come down and again putting pressure on politicians to ensure they consider how the vulnerable and those with no money are going to afford electric vehicles.

And then you’ve got the basics, as you say. Composting, recycling things. Sharing and recycling clothes, which is common to many of the communities I’ve grown up in, because everybody passes around their clothes and shares clothes, so that’s not really a novelty.

Using bottles from home instead of buying plastic water bottles. There’s all sorts of little things people can do.

I think getting involved in iwi, hapū or community groups is also a good way of working with other people and building up relationships in the community because I think as the climate does become more erratic, people are going to be vulnerable.

There are going to be really tough decisions we’ll need to make — and we’ll need whanaungatanga and strong, close, resilient communities to make those tough decisions in calm and fair ways.

Mike Smith from Greenpeace says that we should head for the hills because sea  level rise is inevitable and our urupā, most of our marae, māra kai (food gardens) — they’re all sort of coastal. Well, heading to the hills was probably more my line than Mike Smith. Is there anything in that?

Well, we do need to think carefully about what we have on our coastlines, and councils and iwi need to think carefully about what investments we’re going to make on those coastlines.

So, yes, if your wharekai is right next to the sea, you may need to think again about that. Those are conversations for hapū, iwi, and Māori nationally. We all need to make plans. What will happen when this land — if it’s coastal land and it’s eroding into the sea — has disappeared. What do we do?

And, of course, that’s a question our Pacific whanaunga are facing as well. They have a lot of their land disappearing into Te Moana Nui A Kiwa. Looking out to our relations, we can learn a lot from what they’re already doing in that space.

Thanks very much, Maria. You and I, I guess, think there is a Māori angle to all issues. Some in New Zealand, probably don’t see it in that way, but what would you say to people who assume that there’s no need to factor in Māori-inspired solutions to our societal and environmental challenges?

Well, one would be that we’re tangata whenua. We’re never going anywhere else. We’re here to stay and we have rights by virtue of being tangata whenua.

And we have innovative solutions through our mātauranga which can be really useful. That’s one thing. We also have Treaty rights and the Crown has Treaty obligations. So, we need to be part of the decision-making around these things.

We have large areas of Māori land which hold much of Aotearoa’s biodiversity. We’re part of particular and distinct communities and there will be specific impacts on Māori communities from climate change.

We also have the UN Declaration on the Rights for Indigenous People which sets out how governments should be engaging with their indigenous peoples. That would suggest to the government that they need, again, to be involving us in decisions about our lands, territories, waterways and so on.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


© E-Tangata, 2019

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