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The Native Perspective, Episode 3: Māori

The Native Perspective is a Food Circle project that discusses taking urgent climate change action in order to protect indigenous peoples who depend on their natural environments for survival, food, shelter, and to maintain their cultural identity. Because climate change affects those who rely on nature the most, it is crucial to support indigenous communities worldwide which in turn ensures the preservation of ecosystems, as indigenous peoples have developed a balanced rapport with their natural surroundings and there is much knowledge to be gained from their lifestyles for more sustainable living. The dialogue also draws talking points from ecocriticism; it examines people’s attitudes towards nature, and indigenous studies; centering and elevating the voices of different indigenous cultures and promoting their experiences. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Te Ao Māori

The sea voyaging people of the Pacific have occupied the scattered islands of the ocean for centuries. The Māori are among the most notable of the Eastern Polynesian people who had settled in Aotearoa, or New Zealand, between the years 800 to 1300 CE. The word Māori means ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal,’ and it is now used to refer to the indigenous people of New Zealand as well as their language. In the twentieth century, Māori began to solidify their traditions, language, and culture. They are globally recognized to have their full legal rights as indigenous people, and they contribute highly to the New Zealand economy. [1]

Food in the Māori diet is diverse. Arriving at Aotearoa, they had brought along roots like kūmara (a type of sweet potato), yams, and taro, which they introduced and cultivated in the new environment. They had also brought sources of meat such as Kiore, which is Polynesian rat, and Kurī, a now extinct species of Polynesian dog. What’s more, the new land had a wide range of biodiversity to offer, including flora like wild ferns, palms, fungi, fruit, and seeds, and fauna such as mutton birds and seafood. Additionally, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries European settlers, called Pākehā in Māori, introduced crops like wheat, potatoes, and corn, and Māori also began raising sheep, pigs, and poultry. Māori also preserved food using various techniques. The food was dried, fermented, or sealed in fat and it was stored in either storehouses called pātaka or rua kūmara which are underground pits. [2]

Climate Change Threats

Throughout their history, Māori have migrated from one different climate to another, usually from warmer to cooler ones as they moved along. Hence, a change in weather conditions is something their ancestors have dealt with and learned to live in. For instance, Māori have been able to successfully introduce and cultivate foreign vegetables into Aotearoa soil. In fact, “from [their] perspective, climate change is linked to the past, present and future,” as it narrates the accounts of how their ancestors ventured and acclimated into similar circumstances. [3]

However, climate change as we know it is occurring at an unnaturally fast pace. To Māori, the environmental impact of global warming trends means rising sea levels, land erosion, the loss of essential animal species, changes to seasons and seasons-related indicators, such as species migration and the laying of eggs by birds signaled by the temperature, and deterioration of culturally significant regions. [3] Consequently, this has a critical effect on Māori enterprises and capital, as Māori will own nearly 40% of commercial forestry plantations as well as the 33% investments in the fishing industry. [4]


The government of New Zealand drafted a national adaptation plan that accommodates all communities to ensure that they are able to live in the changing climate, with specific actions made for Māori. This plan draws from the Rauora framework, a plan published separately from the national plan which allows collaboration with Māori and acknowledges the indigenous perspective on the climate issue. It adopts the concept of interconnectedness, that “a well land is a well people and so too are the life forces of these components of the world.” [5] The plan aims to set up a base to work with Māori, which will support Māori in implementing measures and developing strategies for climate adaptation as well as reducing emissions. It also includes protecting indigenous biodiversity, building more resilient homes and community spaces, bettering the infrastructure, and supporting Māori owned small businesses. [6]

While the ability to adapt to different climates is not only impressive but also a vital skill for survival, it is important to remember that climate change affects more than the continuity of the human race, but the endurance of our habitats and the living beings we share them with. For millennia, people have been able to coexist with the natural world and leave no harmful traces behind. It would thus be beneficial to listen and learn from indigenous peoples like the Māori to develop a way of life that can sustain us.

Author: Rima Qayed


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  1. Maori - New World Encyclopedia

  2. Māori foods – kai Māori – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

  3. Why climate change matters to Māori — Science Learning Hub

  4. Release of Te Ao Māori climate change report » Manaaki Whenua (

  5. Te mahere urutaunga ā-motu (tuhina hukihuki): Draft national adaptation plan, Available at:

  6. Climate change and te ao Māori, Available at: