Maori Cultural Rights in Aotearoa New Zealand: Protecting the Cosmology that Protects the Environment

57 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2015 Last revised: 2 Feb 2016

See all articles by Catherine J. Iorns Magallanes

Catherine J. Iorns Magallanes

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2015


This paper first addresses indigenous beliefs about humans’ relationship with nature and thus their place in the world, and how the indigenous cosmology contrasts with the dominant and prevailing Western and liberal ideas.

The paper next addresses the New Zealand examples of the recognition of the right of Maori to have their cosmology upheld in NZ law. In order to understand the current position and how it arose, the history of the Treaty of Waitangi is explained, as is the mechanism adopted to address the Maori grievances arising from its many breaches by the New Zealand government.

Next, different aspects of NZ law are addressed, from recognition of Maori interests and thus cosmology in mainstream resource management decisionmaking, to special arrangements designed specifically to implement Maori cosmology in the management of NZ’s natural resources. It is these special arrangements in particular which environmentalists have focused on because some recent examples have recognised in law the Maori view that the natural environment should be treated more as a person — indeed, as a relative — rather than simply as a resource. These examples from New Zealand illustrate ways in which the law can be used to implement and incorporate indigenous cosmologies with a Western society and legal system and better protect the natural environment in the process.

Keywords: environment, indigenous, Maori, Waitangi, personality, Waikato, Whanganui, Te Urewera, reparations, human rights

JEL Classification: Q00, Z10

Suggested Citation

Iorns, Catherine, Maori Cultural Rights in Aotearoa New Zealand: Protecting the Cosmology that Protects the Environment (October 1, 2015). 21:2 Widener Law Review 273-327, 2015, Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 6/2016, Available at SSRN:

Catherine Iorns (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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