Course:CONS370/2019/Maori and rahui: protecting the treasures of New Zealand

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A lone kauri tree on a hill in 1915.

The Māori people of New Zealand had been utilizing the natural resources of Aotearoa for centuries before Europeans arrived. Forest management in New Zealand and Māori spirituality were inseparable: in their creation stories, humans were the last beings to arise after plants, birds, fish, and other animals. This sense of being the latest addition to the genealogy of life fostered a deep spiritual connection with their natural world and a sense of responsibility as stewards – kaitiaki. One aspect of this stewardship manifested as rāhui or bans that prohibited anyone from accessing an area or resource. There were multiple reasons why rāhui would be established, but fear of the supernatural powers invoked in the initiation of these bans strongly discouraged their violation. Nowadays, rāhui have no teeth; much of the tradition has been whitewashed and enforcement is weak. The introduction of the pathogen Phytophthora agathidicida has killed numerous culturally significant kauri trees (Agathis australis) and various iwi (tribes) have instated rāhui to prevent humans from further spreading the pathogen. A lack of understanding of the importance of rāhui is evidenced by the government’s refusal to operate under Māori paradigms to protect this national taonga (treasure). This apathy and ignorance may result in the rapid extinction of kauri, sadly only the latest disruption of New Zealand ecosystems perpetrated by settlers.



The country of New Zealand in the South Pacific is often so far-removed from the thoughts of other countries that it sometimes gets left off maps [1]. Its size and remoteness are probably the main reasons why it has the shortest human history of any country: Polynesian explorers in ocean-going canoes are thought to have discovered the islands no earlier than 950 AD and as late as the 1200s [2]. The people group now collectively referred to as “Māori” are actually comprised of many tribes (iwi) and sub-tribes (hapū) that never identified themselves as one people, despite sharing a language [3]. Rivalries among iwi often led to wars, and it was only after the influx of Europeans began to threaten indigenous rights that these iwi saw it beneficial to be collectively associated as Māori [3]. Nowadays, after hundreds of years of European influence, 22% of all self-identifying Māori do not know their original tribal affiliation, and only a quarter of ethnic Māori speak the language [3][2]. This case study will distinguish between iwi where possible, but generalizations about culture, spirituality, and language are inevitable.

The Māori see themselves as the youngest descendants of a long lineage, whakapapa, that connects humans, the environment, and the spirit world; past, present, and future relationships within this web of connection are all important [4]. They regard themselves as kaitiaki – stewards – that have rangatiratanga (self-determination) to manage natural systems, provided whakapapa is considered [4]. This concept is crucial to understanding how Māori manage resources. The word kaitiakitanga has often been translated as simply meaning “sustainable management”, but in light of whakapapa it is incredibly nuanced [4]. When making management decisions today, kaitiakitanga means that knowledge of ancestral relations with the land can help make sense of the present and guide the future [4]. The Māori describe this as “walking backwards into the future” (p. 352) [4]: the future is unknown, but can be made sense of by looking at the past.

Polynesian expansion in the South Pacific, showing arrival in New Zealand around 1200 A.D.


December 13, 1642 marked the first time that Pākehā (non-Māori) saw the coast of New Zealand. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman is credited for “discovering” New Zealand, although Polynesian groups had been living on the land for at least 400 years [2]. James Cook explored the land near the Coromandel Peninsula in 1769 [5]. After Europe became aware of New Zealand’s existence, settlers from many countries arrived and began to establish trade with the Māori, developed agriculture, and exploited natural resources, with many choosing to relocate permanently. Britain, France, and the United States gradually established themselves as the main countries competing for the best shares of trade with New Zealand [6]. However, since New Zealand was a separate state, law enforcement was poor and many Europeans mistreated or cheated Māori, who in turn sometimes responded with violence [6]. Christian missionaries from Britain began successfully converting Māori, or at least encouraging them to adapt more European customs [6]. Sources suggest that the Māori saw the British as partners, not as usurpers, but the British saw their relationship with various Māori iwi as means of leveraging trade away from their competitors and potentially securing this independent state for the Crown [6].

Treaty of Waitangi

He iwi tahi tātou – we are now one people.” - Governor William Hobson, Waitangi 1840 [6]

Hobson’s statement to the approximately 500 Māori chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 came on the heels of decades of tension between the Māori and Pākehā [6][7]. Initial Māori-European contact was mutually beneficial, as each group possessed something the other wanted. Māori enabled Europeans to extract desired natural resources and offered protection from other iwi, and in turn received goods such as tools, weapons, clothing, and blankets [6]. But crimes committed by British subjects in this land could not be punished in England or Australia. The Crown tried to rectify this several times by instating statutes meant to bring criminals to justice, but the only effect of these orders was that New Zealand’s status as a state separate from the British Crown was confirmed [6]. After further violence in the 1830s, groups of Māori appealed to the British King for redress [6].

Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand.

The creation of a formal flag in 1834 and the signing of a Declaration of Independence in 1835 solidified Māori sovereignty for a short time [6]. The group of 34 Māori chiefs that signed this declaration were agreeing that the King would be “the parent of their infant state… its protector from all attempts upon its independence” (p. 21) [6], so that while the influence and power of the Crown was apparent, New Zealand had asserted its sovereignty apart from Britain. However, warfare among tribes in 1837, coupled with a general decline in Māori population and an increase in the inevitability of permanent European settlement led to a loss of support for Māori sovereignty [6]. This was underscored by increasing land sales from Māori to Europeans. But since the rights of Māori had been established in the 1835 Declaration, any claim on New Zealand made by the British Crown required the “free and intelligent consent of the Natives, expressed according to their established usages” (p. 31) [6].

On February 4, 1840, a treaty that had been drafted in English, then translated to Māori by a missionary was presented to an assortment of Māori chiefs. The governor explained that he had been appointed to guard the welfare of British and Māori alike, but that his power was limited in the current context. If the chiefs were to sign the treaty, he could control the British subjects and extend protection offered by the Crown to the Māori [6].

Extremely problematic was the translation of the treaty into the Māori language; some words in English did not have direct translations in Māori, and the words used instead lacked the nuance needed to emphasize how much control the Māori were going to relinquish [6]. The Māori version stated that the various iwi would continue to possess tino rangatiratanga (absolute sovereignty) over their taonga (treasures) [7]. However, the English version makes it clear that the Māori were relinquishing total sovereignty of the whole country to the British Crown and that Māori were now subjects under a colonial rule [7][6]. When Māori chiefs signed the treaty on February 7th, 1840, they were convinced that it would protect Māori interests, especially as it related to possession of land.

The next few decades were marked by increasing Māori unrest and violence as the reality of the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi played out. Land was confiscated and redistributed to settlers to punish unrest in the 1860s, further increasing Māori mistrust of Pākehā [6]. The 1865 Native Lands Act removed Crown protection of Māori interests and transferred that power to New Zealand Government. The rights of Māori to self-govern, access important resources such as fish and game, and exercise sovereignty over their land were gradually eroded. In 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was established as part of the Treaty of Waitangi Act as the avenue through which Treaty breaches could be reported and advised upon [7]. In the decades since, over a hundred claims have been filed by Māori regarding the failure of the Crown to protect their interests [7].

The history of the Treaty, how it is understood, its effect on Māori sovereignty, and ongoing restitution is a complex issue with many different viewpoints and interpretations that this paper does not claim to address in their entirety. Outside resources to aid in a more complete understanding are recommended (such as The Treaty of Waitangi [6]).

Tāne Mahuta, the largest known living kauri tree. The trunk is over 4 metres in diameter and is almost 18 metres tall.


Ko te Kauri Ko Au, Ko te Au te Kauri - The Kauri is I and I am the Kauri (Māori proverb)

The kauri tree (Agatha australis) is a conifer species native to New Zealand’s North Island and renowned for its sheer size: records exist from the early 1900s of trees that were 6-7 metres in diameter, with one giant measuring 8.5 metres [5]. Thousand-year-old kauri trees can reach heights as high as 60m, but most remaining old kauri are 30-50m tall [5]. With such impressive dimensions, it is little wonder that these living pillars featured in the creation stories of various Māori iwi. Tāne, god of the woods and its creatures, is said to have grown as a kauri to separate the earth and the sky, bringing light into the world [8]. Indeed, the largest known living kauri is called Tāne Mahuta after the god himself [9]. At an estimated age of around 1500 years old, he is nearly 14m in circumference and tops out just over 50m in height [10]. Nor is he the first kauri to be bestowed a name. It was common for large kauri to be named by local iwi [5] because the Māori saw these large trees as their ancestors [9]. Yet even today, recognition of just how important this taonga is to the Māori people is limited.

Ngatokimatawhaorua war canoe made out of kauri wood and named after the great canoe of Kupe, which brought one group of Māori settlers to New Zealand.

Kauri were revered not only for their spiritual significance but also their usefulness to the Māori. Because of their gargantuan size, kauri wood was used infrequently: massive dugout canoes were made, but the effort required to fell them with stone adzes and fire and then transport them was extensive [5]. More often, the gum or resin of kauri trees was obtained for use as a fire-starter or fuel, and when burnt, was used in tattooing [5]. This casual, intermittent use of the forest giants exploded into extensive logging operations when Europeans arrived. Kauri timber was coveted for a variety of uses, from ship masts, boat building, railway ties, construction of houses, and even musical instruments [5]. Europeans also found that kauri gum could be made into a strong varnish, which furthered the exploitation of the species [5]. Finally, vast tracts of native kauri forest were treated as mere “wasteland” and burned to clear space for more desirable pastureland [5]. The attack on the kauri began in the late 1700s and harvest did not cease until 1981, by which time only 1% of the original kauri forests remained [5].

Kauri dieback

Kauri tree infected by kauri dieback. Noticeable resinosis associated with collar-rot lesion of lower trunk will spread laterally, eventually girdling the tree.

In 2005, observers noted a sickening of kauri trees in the forests around Auckland. In the Waitākere Ranges individual trees rapidly progressed through stages of root rot, root collar and stem lesions, yellowing and loss of foliage, followed promptly by tree death [11]. It was some time before the culprit of the kauri dieback was identified as a pathogen of the Phytophthora genus, and even longer before being officially named Phytophthora agathidicida [11][12]. The exact origin of the disease is unknown. Since it has only recently started aggressively attacking kauri, it is possible that P. agathidicida was introduced to New Zealand in the 1950s through the use of imported soil and seedlings in kauri forest reforestation [13]. Alternately, some have suggested that its widespread range indicates the pathogen has been in New Zealand for as long as 600 years [14].

Regardless of when kauri dieback was introduced, the disease is now permanently established and poses a real threat to kauri and the forests they dominate (a detailed map of confirmed infection locations can be found here). P. agathidicida indiscriminately attacks kauri of all ages and sizes [14], not only putting the remnant wild populations and old-growth individuals at risk, but casting serious doubt over the survival of the species as a whole. Members of the genus Phytophthora are vectored by the movement of water in soil, since the asexually-produced spores of these pathogens possess structures that allow them to swim towards their hosts based on chemical cues [15]. Additionally, the sexual spores of this type of pathogen (oospores) are thick-walled and can persist as dormant structures in the soil for many years [15]. In a country that markets its natural beauty to tourists, encouraging them to explore the many great “tramps and walks”, this is particularly worrying: a tiny particle of soil on a hiker’s shoe can spread the spores of kauri dieback to a previously unaffected area. Indeed, observed infection zones occur most frequently within 100 m of established tracks, though there is a potential for sampling bias [16]. Since there is no cure for infected kauri and the pathogen cannot be removed from the soil, the only option for management is to prevent kauri dieback from entering unaffected areas. Māori iwi in the area have responded by instating a rāhui or prohibition on entering affected areas, and this case study discusses why they have done this, the implications of a rāhui, and how other stakeholders have responded.

Tenure arrangements

Map showing approximate location of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, New Zealand.
Map showing approximate location of Hunua Ranges Regional Park, New Zealand.

Of the 6.22 million hectares of remaining native forest in New Zealand (both islands), nearly three-quarters of it is protected in state conservation areas and cannot be harvested [2]. The rest is privately owned and is regulated under the 1949 Forests Act which requires harvest in native forests to follow strict rules regarding sustainability [2]. Prior to 1987, the New Zealand Forest Service possessed control of 87% of the remaining 7500 ha of mature kauri forest and just under 24% of second-growth kauri forests [5]. Private owners managed most other kauri stands [5]. When the Forest Service was disbanded in 1987, the new Department of Conservation (DOC) obtained the responsibility for managing New Zealand’s remaining public native forests [5].

The native kauri forests threatened by the spread of P. agathidicida discussed in this study are located within the Waitākere Ranges and Hunua Ranges Regional Parks (see maps). Both of these parks are under the jurisdiction of the Auckland Council, the highest level of local government in New Zealand, and are managed as recreational and tourist areas. This means that these lands, though historically and traditionally managed by Māori, are under a state-owned tenure system. The state possesses the rights to develop infrastructure in the regional park, as well as restrict or grant recreational access. No industrial forms of forestry are practiced in this remnant native forest. These parks can receive high visitor numbers, especially in the summer, since Auckland is only a few hours away. The extensive confiscation of land as a result of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi removed these important forest remnants from Māori control.

Administrative arrangements

Simplified diagram of Auckland Council structure.

The Waitākere and Hunua Ranges fall under the authority of the Auckand Council, a branch of local New Zealand government that is comprised of two parts that have the authority to make decisions: the governing body and the local boards [17]. An elected mayor is the head of the 20 elected members that make up the governing body, which instates committees that effectively make the decisions [17]. Separate from the governing body are local boards which are elected by voters from 21 separate regions and have authority to make decisions on matters concerning their area [17].

A sign instructing visitors to clean their shoes upon entering and leaving kauri forests to prevent the spread of the pathogen.

The Local Government Acts of 2002 and 2009 made it a requirement for councils to give Māori the ability to “contribute to decision-making” by promoting the interests of Māori groups and making sure the Council abides by the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (p. 16)[17]. The Independent Māori Statutory Board appoints two representatives to all local committees that manage and steward natural physical resources and may be invited to become involved in other committees by the Auckland Council [17]. All reports made for the governing body or local boards are required to include an impact statement that details if and how the issue being presented has any impacts on Māori well-being or ancestral territory [17]. Additionally, Relationship Agreements between some iwi and the Council are being established, their goal being to acknowledge “mutual interests of council and mana whenua [Māori with ancestral relationships in the Auckland region]” and a way of “documenting each party’s intention to work together respectfully and positively” (p. 39)[17].

Among its many responsibilities, the Auckland Council is responsible for upholding various Parliamentary Acts, such as the Biosecurity Act of 1993 [17]. Section 131 of this Act is especially relevant for this case study, as it discusses the declaration and enforcement of a controlled area. A controlled area aims to:

(a) enable the limitation of the spread of any pest or unwanted organism; or

(b) minimise the damage caused by any pest or unwanted organism; or

(c) protect any area from the incursion of pests or unwanted organisms [...][18]

This type of declaration is made by a chief technical officer or management agency and may be revoked, replaced, or amended by them [18]. In this case study, the chief technical officer of the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has put Controlled Area Notices (CANs) in place in the Waitākere and Hunua Ranges [19]. Enforcement of CANs is performed by government compliance officers, who monitor (in some locations) hygiene stations that must be used by all trail users to remove all soil from shoes and equipment when entering and exiting a track [19]. However, the MPI has currently not been given authority to prosecute people ignoring track closures in the Waitākeres [20].

Affected Stakeholders

Below is a list of social groups who will be directly impacted by decisions and outcomes surrounding the management of kauri dieback in the Waitākere Ranges. These groups have something to lose if the pathogen is poorly managed.

Group Objectives Relative power Reasoning
Māori of New Zealand Strong spiritual connections to traditional territory and natural taonga such as kauri means that losing kauri results in a loss of part of their identity. Their primary goal is to prevent kauri from dying out, which can be furthered by recognition of their right to exercise rangatiratanga. Low to moderate Though some iwi have mana whenua in the Waitākeres, and their rights are upheld in the Treaty of Waitangi, local government has ultimate land management authority.
Specific iwi, e.g. Te Kawerau ā Maki; Te Roroa Strong spiritual connections to traditional territory and natural taonga such as kauri means that losing kauri results in a loss of part of their identity. Their primary goal is to prevent kauri from dying out, which can be furthered by recognition of their right to exercise rangatiratanga. Moderate to high Have more power than Māori as a whole due to their iwi identity; they can file a Treaty claim if they feel the government is not protecting their customary mana whenua.
Private landowners with kauri forests Maintain kauri forests due to their emotional or physical significance on their land, but also to avoid them becoming a safety risk and a challenge to remove if they die. High (on their own land) Possess rights of private property owners on their land, but cannot prevent some vector pathways of kauri dieback (water in soil or wild animals).
Pākehā local to the Waitākere and Hunua Ranges People who live near and normally recreate within the Waitākere and Hunua Ranges are directly affected by track closures in the area. While they want kauri to be protected, they are upset over long-term closure of these tracks because they have no natural places to access. Moderate Can submit feedback to the Auckland Council or DOC and through public consultations held through Keep Kauri Standing.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Below is a list of stakeholders who will not experience severe negative effects if kauri dieback is mismanaged. These parties may certainly be worried about the outcomes in this case study but will not have their cultural, spiritual, and emotional well-being permanently changed.

Group Objectives Relative power Reasoning
Auckland Council Ensure the economic, social, environmental well-being of the Auckland region. Tourism is extremely important to the city due to it being the main port of entry for international visitors. High The Council holds by far the largest amount of power concerning the management of kauri dieback; they dictate the opening or closing of tracks, decided what trail upgrades are done and where, and decide how firmly closures are enforced. Can chose to override the advice of IMSB and other groups.
Department of Conservation (DOC) Conserve, protect, and restore natural areas such as kauri forests. Moderate to high Have high levels of autonomy in national parks and forests, but they play a smaller role in the Waitākeres because those forests are under Auckland Council's jurisdiction.
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Mainly concerned with economic aspects of natural resource management, such as plantation forestry, but also enforce biosecurity measures to maintain international trade with other countries. Moderate to high The power to impose or remove a CAN rests with MPI, but the level to which they enforce the area closures is dictated by Auckland Council.
Scientists Find ways to increase kauri resistance, slow or stop the spread of kauri dieback, and provide governing bodies with the best information possible. Moderate At this point, their power is restricted by the amount of funding they receive, and their conclusions and reccommendations can be (and have been) ignored by governing bodies.
Tour operators with tenure in rāhui / CAN areas Have tracks in the Waitākere Ranges reopened as soon as possible and access to popular areas restored so profits do not diminish, especially in summer months (Dec-Mar). Moderate They will have some influence with the Auckland Council as sources of revenue for the city. To resume normal operations as soon as possible means resuming the influx of tourist dollars.
The Tree Council NZ Advocate for programs and policies that protect and conserve trees in the Auckland region, including those in native kauri forests. Educate the public on such matters [21]. Low to moderate This organization is often approached for information by news reporters concerning the state of kauri dieback. Less lobby power than other organizations, but vocal in the media.
Waitākere Ranges Protection Society Conserve and protect the Waitākere Ranges and prevent activities that threaten the natural forests of the area. Push for active pest control [22]. Moderate With funding and public support, the society can take issues to court if they feel development or lack of action is threatening the Waitākeres.
Forest & Bird Advocate for education about kauri dieback and lobby governing bodies to more strictly regulate access to kauri forests and to create a pest management agency where all stakeholders will contribute to decision-making [23]. Moderate Prominent organization that has advocated for adherence to the rāhui from the beginning. Provision of educational resources to public through social media is powerful. Have previously taken conservation issues to court.
Friends of Regional Parks Ensure the environmental well-being of parks is considered by planners and operators, including identifying threats to the integrity of the park [24]. Low to moderate An entity separate from Auckland Council and not recognized by the Council in official decision-making processes, but can still lobby for awareness of certain issues.

The power of non-profit conservation groups depends on how effectively they can lobby and increase public awareness by communicating the importance of saving kauri. A full list of groups that support the rāhui can be found here.


“The extermination of that noble tree progresses from year to year, at such a rate that its final extinction is as certain as that of the Native of New Zealand. The European colonization threatens the existence of both, and with the last of the Māoris the last of the Kauri will also disappear from the earth.” Ferdinand von Hochstetter, 1859 [25]

Although the Māori people did not die out as Hochstetter feared, his quote recognizes the relationships that exist between the Māori and their natural world. Despite their comparatively short habitation of New Zealand, an interdependence exists between these people and taonga such as the disappearing kauri.

Before European arrival and interference in Māori spirituality, certain customs were observed that pertained to the management of the land. These customs understood that there was a spiritual component to proper land use and the health of a resource. One such custom was the implementation of rāhui, literally, “prohibition” [26]. Though history on the custom prior to Christian influence is not well-documented, it is understood that a rāhui could be placed on an area for three main reasons: to claim land, after a tragic death, and to replenish resources [26].

Implementation of a rāhui often required the presence of a tohunga or spiritual elder who performed prayers and rituals to invoke the power of the gods in protecting an area under rāhui [26]. In addition to a wooden post (pou rāhui) being erected to mark the boundary, human sacrifices were sometimes made to increase the potency of the rāhui [26]. It was made clear that violating the rāhui and continuing to use the resources of the area would result in the death of the offender, either by the gods or by the iwi enforcing it [26]. The tohunga was the only person who could lift the rāhui, which was said to be done by burning the pou rāhui and other elements used in the rituals [26]. These practices no doubt appalled Christian missionaries, who encouraged the Māori to abandon the human sacrifices and deity worship involved [26]. It could be argued that this, combined with the fallout following the Treaty of Waitangi, minimized the significance of rāhui in the eyes of Pākehā and contributed to the problem of Māori having little to no mana (authority) over their customary lands and the use of resources.

Nowadays, rāhui are often prefaced with the word “voluntary” [26]. Ultimate power to temporarily or permanently close an area lies with official governing bodies such as the Department of Conservation (DOC) or local governments such as the Auckland Council. The New Zealand government allows Māori groups to place rāhui over certain areas (and may even encourage rāhui to be placed) but there is no understanding by most Pākehā, especially tourists, that the custom has deep spiritual roots and that to break a rāhui shows a disregard for the well-being – spiritual and physical – of that area.

It is in this social environment that the Auckland iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki placed a rāhui over the entire 16,000 ha of forest in the Waitākere Ranges on December 2, 2017 [27]. After years of working with scientists to find the most effective way to stop the spread of kauri dieback, the iwi saw the number of dying kauri double and decided to take action by declaring a rāhui. The iwi has said:

“For Te Kawerau ā Maki who are the mana whenua of Waitākere, the death of our forest is an existential threat. It would also see the loss of a nationally significant taonga (treasure) for the people of New Zealand… The health of the forest is reaching an ecological tipping point, and Te Kawerau ā Maki will act to protect the forest for future generations” [28].

For a year and a half, the government and Auckland Council dragged their heels, indicating that they supported the rāhui but would not be actively enforcing it, allowing forest users to continue to tread the dirt paths over the shallow root systems of the kauri and potentially spread the disease to new areas.

On May 1 2018, after many tense months of campaigning by Te Kawerau ā Maki, conservation organisations such as Forest & Bird, and concerned individuals, the government relented and placed Controlled Area Notices on forest areas around Auckland that finally officially recognize the biosecurity threat and hopefully combat the spread of kauri dieback [29][19]. What the voluntary rāhui failed to achieve is now being enforced by locked gates, fences, and the threat of a $50,000 fine [19]. And yet, independent audits and observers report that as few as a third of people entering tracks with footwear sanitation stations actually clean their shoes and equipment. While the complete track closures are mostly being respected, some people are ignoring the CAN and heedlessly entering these vulnerable tracks [30].

Te Kawerau ā Maki, recognizing their treaty rights and the obligations that the Auckland Council, as an extension of the Crown, has to uphold them, has launched a treaty claim under the Waitangi Tribunal [31]. A representative for the iwi went on record to say, before the CAN was implemented, that:

"We are a Treaty partner. We are a bicultural country. We’re supposed to work together on issues like this. Kauri, and more broadly speaking Waitākere, is a taonga for Te Kawerau ā Maki. We have gone on the record stating, as every other iwi around the country would: if our forest dies, we die. It’s an existential issue. But ministers are refusing to engage” [27].

The attitudes of the Auckland Council and those who defy the rāhui / CAN demonstrate an anthropocentric worldview in which the health and well-being of the natural world will always come after the needs and desires of humans. Within this mindset, there is little room for the inherent value of organisms such as kauri trees. There is no sense of deep spiritual connection to the land and other living creatures. Before the Auckland Council instated a CAN to legally support the rāhui, they showed that tourism and profit that arise from use of the Waitākere and Hunua Ranges were more important than preserving a dying species of unique trees. A couple visiting the Waitākere Ranges was quoted as saying:

We are Europeans, so we will listen and respect the final word of those who have the power to shut or leave the tracks open.[32]

This shows complete disregard for traditional Māori authority that has been eroded by colonialism. Kauri dieback in New Zealand has brought to the surface the core of the problem facing conservation efforts: when people have no emotional or spiritual understanding of the consequences, they cannot be persuaded to care. Te Kawerau ā Maki and other Māori iwi have been the traditional guardians of New Zealand’s forest, and it is precisely because of their spiritual connection to kauri forests that they continue to fight for the dying trees.


The issue of how to best manage kauri dieback is a direct reflection of the state of affairs in New Zealand as a result of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty awarded authority over the land to Pākehā, though the Māori version implied that they would retain sovereignty and that it was a partnership [6]. Over a hundred years of land and resource confiscation led to the entrenchment of Pākehā authority, and although systems such as the Waitangi Tribunal are now in place to provide restitution to disenfranchised Māori iwi, the colonial governance systems that perpetuated these wrongs are still in place. This is clearly the case in the governance and policy-making structure of the Auckland Council. While the Independent Maori Statutory Board (IMSB) is supposed to guide decision-making by having Māori representatives advise certain local committees, there appears to be a disconnect between their presence and their actual influence on policy [17]. It is concerning that despite scientific recommendations, the implementation of a rāhui, and vocal lobbying from multiple conservation groups that the Auckland Council were able to refuse to put a ban on the Waitākeres for as long as they did. It is clear that the power to make decisions regarding the protection of national taonga is still held by Pākehā, not Māori.

However, the power of the local iwi and smaller stakeholders should not be underestimated. Te Kawerau ā Maki knew their rights under the Treaty of Waitangi and began pursuing legal action through the Waitangi Tribunal. New Zealand is unique among settler-colonial countries in that there exists a legal document that recognizes Māori traditional authority over mana whenua across the country. When the government does not uphold these rights, the Maori can take steps to call them to account. Although this means a great deal of time and financial and other resources must be expended to settle the matter in court, the press surrounding the issue and the constant pressure from groups such as the Tree Council and Forest & Bird caused the Auckland Council to finally enforce the rāhui with law.


As a Pākehā from Canada who has only spent three months in New Zealand, I strongly feel that I have nothing to say that has not already been said by those with traditional, ancestral claims and much deeper ties to the land and to kauri. I will, however, reiterate some points made by Te Kawerau ā Maki and other Māori:

  1. The need for partnership. Government agencies such as DOC and Auckland Council possess nearly all the power and funding required to make meaningful progress in the fight against kauri dieback. Māori, as kaitiaki (guardians), are the group with traditional and spiritual connection to the kauri as well as tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty) and have been calling the government to acknowledge their involvement in the issue. The government will likely have to make future difficult decisions concerning kauri dieback and should uphold the obligations of the Treaty of Waitangi by consulting with and listening to iwi.
  2. Education and enforcement. Auckland Council needs to allow the prosecution of individuals who willfully disregard the CAN. However, a larger part of the problem seems to be rooted in a misunderstanding of rāhui and the spiritual significance of taonga. Māori interpreters should be employed to be present on the Waitākere tracks that are open to convey the spiritual significance of kauri to visitors. Schools and universities should encourage an awareness of the issue that goes beyond the scientific.
  3. Coordinated scientific approaches. With $10 million per year for the next decade being made available to kauri dieback programs [33], research needs to focus on pinpointing the best ways to stop the spread of the disease, as well as more uniform monitoring and testing for its presence. Since the gene pool of remaining kauri is very small, it is unlikely that a resistant strain of kauri can be found, but perhaps genetic engineering can accomplish this. Since it is a controversial procedure, there would have to be a great deal of transparency and communication, especially with Māori stakeholders.
  4. Contingency planning. Some experts say that kauri may be extinct in 30 years [34]. This possibility means that as much genetic material of kauri needs to be preserved as possible. Since its seeds do not remain viable in storage long after production, the best way to preserve a remnant of the species may be in arboretums or botanical gardens, both in New Zealand and other countries. If the species goes extinct in its native range and individuals exist elsewhere, there may be a point at which science can discover a way to bring the kauri back. Again, communication with iwi must be maintained throughout. Total extinction is not an option.

It must be emphasized that all further action taken in the fight against kauri dieback needs to be done with full Māori involvement. Western science may have classified the deadly pathogen that is killing kauri across New Zealand, and local governments are the ones providing the funds necessary to install shoe cleaning stations and upgrade tracks in vulnerable forests, but it is Māori such as Te Kawerau ā Maki who are intimately linked to these disappearing forests. If any victory can be achieved over kauri dieback, it will only happen when all stakeholders can work collectively and revere New Zealand's last remaining native forests as the Māori do.

Glossary of Terms & Abbreviations

Term Meaning
DOC Department of Conservation
Hapū Subtribe, extended family group [10]
Iwi Tribe [10]
Kaitiaki Guard, guardian, caretaker, manager, trustee [10]
Kaitiakitanga Guardianship [10]
Mana Respect, authority, control, power, status, spiritual power [10]
Mana whenua Local Māori with territorial rights and cultural authority over the land [10]
Māori Collective term for the indigenous peoples of New Zealand
MPI Ministry for Primary Industries
Pākehā Non-Māori
Pou rāhui Post erected to signify the boundary of a rāhui [26]
Rāhui Exclusion, ban, quarantine [7]
Rangatiratanga Sovereignty [7]
Taonga Treasured, sacred property [10]
Te Kawerau ā Maki Iwi with mana whenua in the Auckland region of New Zealand
Te Roroa Iwi with mana whenua in the Northland region of New Zealand
Tino rangatiratanga Self-determination, absolute sovereignty, esp. over natural resources [7]
Tohunga Skilled spiritual person [7]
Whakapapa Geneaology, cultural identity, ancestry [10]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Miller, R., Dickinson, Y., & Reid, A. Māori connections to forestry in New Zealand. (2007). In: Forestry for indigenous peoples: learning from experiences with forest industries. S. Feary, ed. ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society Occasional Paper (1).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Gould, J. D. (1996). Socio-economic differences between Māori iwi. The Polynesian Society, 105(2), 165–183.
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  14. 14.0 14.1 Beever, R. E., Waipara, N. W., Ramsfield, T. D., Dick, M. A., & Horner, I. J. (2009). Kauri (Agathis australis) under threat from Phytophthora? In: Phytophthoras in forests and natural ecosystems: Proceedings of the fourth meeting of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) Working Party S07.02.09 (pp. 74–85).
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  18. 18.0 18.1 Ministry for Primary Industries. (2018). Section 131. In: Biosecurity Act 1993. New Zealand.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Ministry for Primary Industries. (2018). Controlled Area Notice: Section 131 Biosecurity Act 1993. Kauri dieback (Phytophthora agathidicida) in the Waitākere Ranges. New Zealand.
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  33. "Conservation organisations resign from Auckland parks group". Australian Leisure Management. 26 March 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2019. 
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