Access to Environmental Justice for Maori

2017 Yearbook of New Zealand Jurisprudence, Special Issue on Access to Justice for Maori, pp. 141-181

Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 51/2020

42 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2020 Last revised: 27 Aug 2020

See all articles by Catherine J. Iorns Magallanes

Catherine J. Iorns Magallanes

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2017


Access to environmental justice addresses the more typical access to (procedural) access to the decisions by which natural resources are allocated, and justice in the substantive results of those decisions. While environmental justice goals are typically conceptualised as being either procedural or substantive, indigenous Māori claims to and aspirations for environmental justice introduce additional elements that make this binary categorisation too simplistic. This paper suggests that there is a third type of environmental justice that needs to be identified and addressed separately: indigenous environmental justice.

Unique to Māori as indigenous people is their cultural connections to Aotearoa New Zealand's natural environment, while also having a history of dispossession and forced alienation from it. One way of conceptualising Māori aspirations for environmental justice is as three types of goals. One goal for Māori environmental justice is political, in that it concerns the distribution of power. This goal is for the active protection of the environmental assets of Aotearoa as well as the recognition of Maori authority to control and/or share in making decisions over them. A second type of environmental justice goal is cultural: for Māori values and culture to be equally respected and protected in environmental law and decision-making, including metaphysical as well as physical features of the natural environment. A third type of goal is the respect of equality of treatment as individuals. This encompasses the more traditional procedural and substantive aspects identified above. This includes access to the legal system in respect of environmental and resource decision-making, and the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens; this distribution is most commonly discussed in relation to bearing of environmental burdens such as pollution and its impact on individual health.

This paper introduces some of the different types of environmental justice: procedural, substantive, and indigenous. It then discusses aspects of justice under the New Zealand Resource Management Act 1991 and Environment Court. The second half of the paper illustrates some of these elements and issues with two case studies: Mount Te Aroha and the Tui mine pollution, and the aftermath of the grounding of the MV Rena in the Bay of Plenty.

The issues arising from the loss of land and resources after colonisation adds an extra layer of complexity to the discussion of environmental justice. Some issues of environmental justice for indigenous peoples will concern traditional, procedural aspects, such as an individual’s access to the courts for environmental claims, and some will concern traditional substantive elements, such as the distribution of pollution and other environmental burdens. Other environmental justice claims can only be understood in terms of these additional historical, political and cultural elements of justice.

Keywords: Environment, Law, Justice, Indigenous, Maori

JEL Classification: K10, K32, K41

Suggested Citation

Iorns, Catherine, Access to Environmental Justice for Maori (July 1, 2017). 2017 Yearbook of New Zealand Jurisprudence, Special Issue on Access to Justice for Maori, pp. 141-181, Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 51/2020, Available at SSRN:

Catherine Iorns (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics