It is time for the management and conservation of the Antarctic to begin focusing on responsibility, rather than rights, through an Indigenous Māori framework, a University of Otago academic argues.
In an article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi, of the Centre for Sustainability, says now is the time to be thinking of these potential changes.
“New Zealand is currently re-setting its priorities for future Antarctic research, and there may be review of the current international environmental conventions as we approach the 50-year anniversary of the protocols in 2048.
“We argue that Indigenous Māori frameworks offer powerful ways of thinking about how we protect the Antarctic, by focusing on responsibilities rather than rights, including the responsibilities we have to future generations,” she says.
Antarctica is unlike any other place on Earth — it is remote, there are no permanent human settlements, and no one nation has sovereignty.
“Consensus decision making by Antarctic Treaty nations will determine what happens next, but within that group there are many different interests and perspectives on what should happen, from mining rights through to ecosystem protection.
“Global conceptions of Antarctica are dominated by colonial narratives. On the other hand, an Indigenous Māori framework, focussing on relational thinking and connectedness, humans and non-human kin, and drawing on concepts of both reciprocity and responsibility, offers transformational insight into true collective management and conservation of Antarctica.
“Because mātauranga has a foundation where relationships between different parts of the universe, between humans and other living beings, and so on, are acknowledged and embedded, this is a very different way of examining the world and offers a different perspective on what we could — or even should — do next.”
The article brings together mostly Indigenous researchers from Otago, Massey University, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and is the first paper to bring Indigenous frameworks to the issue of what an Antarctic future might look like, Associate Professor Wehi says.
Human navigation into Antarctic waters dates back to about the 7th century with Hui Te Rangiora. Accounts of a frozen ocean and enormous ice cliffs were passed down through generations.
Observing and recording changes in the physical environment, naming and classifying areas of risk, and predicting environmental disturbance are critical for voyages like those of Hui Te Rangiora.
“Incorporating Indigenous environmental knowledge enhances our ability to understand, monitor, plan for, and adapt to weather and climate variability, but can also offer alternate frameworks from which to enhance practice,” she says.
“Recognizing the intrinsic link between the well-being of tangata and whenua, Māori have an intergenerational obligation to ensure that the relationship with Antarctica is reciprocal and sustainable.”
Co-author Associate Professor Krushil Watene, of Massey University, says Antarctica is one of the most important and one of the most fascinating places on Earth — both for science and philosophy.
“Antarctica challenges our perspectives, unsettles them and in doing so provides us with opportunities to reimagine our lives together, to reimagine our relationships with the natural environment, and to rethink our responsibilities globally.
“We need to urgently prompt thinking and discussion around the deep reflection and transformative change that Antarctica challenges us, as a global community to undertake. We need to be bold and brave in charting a future in which our planet can thrive. Philosophy generally, and indigenous philosophy in particular, brings important and valuable perspectives through which such futures can be charted,” she says.