Ngatihine (tribal member) & Whaea (elder), Aotearoa (aka New Zealand)
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My name is Wiki Walker. I come from Aotearoa otherwise known as New Zealand. My tribe is Ngatihine the largest sub-tribe in this country named from our chieftain who was a woman named Hineamaru. I am the mother of six children and grandmother of five grandchildren. All my children and grandchildren speak our language through the ancient process of transmission from generation to generation. The community I was raised in and reared my children was one of the last two in our country where we spoke our language past to us through the generations. Today there are no communities which-remain where Maori is the first language or has not suffered from the disruption to our traditional intergenerational language transmission. In our community, we survived from the land, the forest, and water. We grew and foraged for our food, lived and worked collectively, shared the care of our children and elders, and relied on nature to provide us our ‘medicine’ to heal us and keep us well. We loved each other without judgment and respected the natural world for the abundance it provided for our survival. I introduce myself from this place because it has defined my whole life as Tangata Whenua (person from the land) here in Aotearoa. I also begin with language and customs because I believe (as do many other elders here in Aotearoa) that the loss of language and culture is akin to the loss of biodiversity and climate change. First and foremost our solutions to biodiversity and climate change are in the codes and messages of our language and customs. When I think about colonization, one of the greatest losses to my people has been the colonization of our language and customs enabling the appropriation of our knowledge by Europeans for their own self-interests. In regard to the focus of the panel discussion that Indigenous Rights and Rights of Nature are indissociable. Tangata Whenua/Maori like our other indigenous whanau (family) also believe that we are inseparable from nature. This is described in our whakatauki (proverb) Ko au te Whenua Ko te Whenua ko au I am the land The land is me
When we are inseparable from the natural world, we are not ‘beings in the world’ the ‘world is in our being’ I was reared to understand te mana o te Ao Turoa (the power and rights of the natural world) is the power of life which emanates from the natural world to enable humans the privilege of existence. Te mana o te Ao Turoa is environmental sovereignty and humans are subjects to this power and rights. We do not have dominion over mana.
Mana is a gift from the natural world given to my ancestors through the voices of the birds, the trees, the water, the wind. We were gifted mana to guide us in our relationship to the natural world and each other.
When we seek the most efficient solution to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change; Te mana o te Ao Turoa will guide us in how to achieve this. For me it has been a life time of listening and responding to our mother earth as tangata whenua. I am now at a place in my life where I am seen as a whaea (a female elder) who has dedicated a life time to the protection and care of our natural world as with our language and customs.
In my view when we shift toward our own philosophy of environmental sovereignty it attracts others who hold the same heart. We then will see ‘the cost-efficient and rapid respond to Biodiversity loss and climate change’. Not only do we live, protect and repair our own indigenous systems, we also embrace other people into our philosophy who have the ‘western tools’ that maybe needed to help us in our mahi aroha (love work) ki a Papa- tu-a- Nuku (mother nature)
What am I doing now as a Whaea (elder woman?)
I have not only reared my whanau (family) in te reo me ona tikanga (language and customs) but also have had a lifetime in Maori environmentalism, conservation and Maori development within my tribe, supporting other tribes and in local as well as national government.
All of my experiences in this area and my unique cultural upbringing guided by the voices of my ancestors have led me to an autoethnographic PhD in Maori environmental studies and economics which I am on the verge of completing. This study explores the relationship we have as humans to the natural world with a particular focus on the influence of economics on that relationship. My study is through the eyes of a tangata whenua where I express a whole different paradigm to inform an economic model (koru economies) grounded in te mana o te Ao Turoa.
There is much interest in my study because I challenge the western economic philosophy upon which has resulted in biodiversity loss and climate change. In my view when we ground ourselves in our own philosophies of the nature of existence and being, instead of constantly accommodating the ‘on top’ of the existing economic ideology, we create a powerful paradigm shift founded on the concept of Te mana o te Ao Turoa.