The Environment Court has ruled in favour of Maori spiritual values over an energy company’s bid to erect dozens of wind turbines on a Hawke’s Bay mountain range.
The court said the 37 turbines would go against Maori spiritual values, including the site’s history, water and sacred areas.
Judge Craig Thompson said it was impossible not to absorb some of the depth of emotion expressed about the attachment of people to the area.
Such rulings have in the past been subject to ridicule from business developers and politicians.
Professor Danny Keenan, of Victoria University’s Maori studies department, told NZPA it was very difficult for non-Maori to understand the concept of such a deep spiritual connection Maori had to the land – and it was difficult for Maori to explain it.
“I think the situation is that Maori still retain a very strong customary linkage to the landscape and that’s kept alive through Maori expressional culture.”
He said Maori saw themselves as inherently “anchored” to known historical landscapes, which was why many tribes have raised concerns about the Crown or others who were seen to be imposing on tribal domains. “Especially where the grounds are known to have once been a battle site for example.”
He said the Maori tradition to fight developments, such as roads, was to do with a desire to retain a continuity between the lived realities of today and the ancestral realities of the customary period, he said.
Dr Keenan said one reason behind such fierce protection of the land stemmed from 1864 when the Public Works Act was introduced and Maori lost a large amount of land.
“So there’s a constant resistance to the Public Works Act these days, but more broadly it’s to do with the fact that roads and other (movement) onto tribal lands are just seen as a transgression.
“It is not Maori’s first choice for the land.”
In 2003 many New Zealanders were left scratching their heads when Tainui hapu objected to a planned expressway that was due to pass over the lair of a taniwha (mythical monster) at Meremere in the Waikato.
Work temporarily stopped around the lair while the parties held talks.
They settled on a $15,000-$20,000 embankment that doesn’t encroach on the taniwha’s space.
The settlement prompted scorn from National MPs, who as part of their campaign for petrol tax to be used only for roads, accused the Labour Party of spending it on taniwha and other non-essential concerns.
Dr Keenan said it was difficult for non-Maori to understand the concept of the taniwha.
“A taniwha is something in between a mythical and a metaphorical device that Maori use to encapsulate the value and continuing importance of a particular area.”
Dr Keenan said there was a long Maori tradition that came out of such myths or ancient knowledge that was all about sustaining the resource.
“It’s very hard to describe, this is how the Maori intellectual world operates and its interconnections with the spiritual dimension.
“These kinds of concepts are very important and there are very few Maori who want to interfere with them.”
Dr Keenan said it was similar to Pakeha being unnerved by the bulldozing of cemeteries and other historic places.
“(But) it just comes back to a vastly different view of the land and being rooted in the land.”
However, Dr Keenan said there were pieces of legislation emerging that acknowledged the importance of recognising land for its historical and spiritual importance.
“The Environmental Court seems to be quite serious in taking on Maori concerns – as it has been required to.
“And I sometimes think New Zealanders at large, generally speaking, are now accepting and accommodating Maori views,” he said.
“I know that the taniwha issue got a lot of press and quite a lot of negative editorialising. I think it’s through a lack of understanding.
It’s just a different reality that sometimes astounds non-Maori and the whole value system that’s hundreds of years old.”
19 April 2007