Mātauranga Māori Values-driven Management

Waitangi Day Hīkoi, Ōtepoti Dunedin, 2024 (CC BY 4.0 – Photo by Mark McGuire).

Mātauranga Māori values-driven management is Indigenous knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand that enables people to more effectively exist within te taio (the climate-ecological system). Mātauranga Māori (the knowledge or understanding of everything tangible and intangible across the universe from a Māori perspective) is a holistic, dynamic and continually evolving knowledge system involving generational observations and experiences (Waikato Regional Council, 2015). Hikuroa (2016) expands upon Mātauranga Māori.

Being driven by or integrating Māori cultural values, knowledge, and practices into environmental management strategies, means people can develop more holistic and sustainable approaches to addressing these pressing issues. See also customary resource management, where concepts such as rāhui are discussed. Key to the concept is that it is centred on wellbeing of people and the wider living world (often indivisible) rather than financial gain or self-interest (Crow et al., 2020; Mihaare et al., 2024).

Mātauranga Māori values-driven management concepts vary significantly between different iwi and hapū (tribal units of organisation)  in Aotearoa. What follows is a very brief summary. Awatere et al. (2015)  expand on these concepts and provide additional reading. Some Mātauranga Māori principles that can inform efforts toward ecological regeneration and climate change adaptation include:

Whanaungatanga (relationships): This emphasises building strong relationships with the environment and recognising the interconnectedness of all living beings. This value encourages collaboration to co-manage ecosystems, fostering greater respect and understanding of local ecological systems.

Kaitiakitanga (guardianship): This relates in part to the idea of environmental stewardship, though is more nuanced. Kaitiakitanga promotes responsible management and protection of the living world. 

Manaakitanga (hospitality and care): This encourages organisations to approach environmental management with empathy, and compassion. This value promotes inclusive decision-making processes, helping perhaps to ensure that climate adaptation efforts are equitable and just.

Rangatiratanga (leadership): Effective leadership is essential for driving transformative change in environmental management. Rangatiratanga encourages leaders to take a proactive role in addressing climate change, advocating for policies and practices that promote ecological regeneration and resilience. This also includes ideas of self-determination for Indigenous peoples.

These concepts should be based on an understanding of tikanga (protocols and practices), recognising the importance of following cultural protocols in guiding environmental management. By incorporating tikanga into conservation efforts (both processes and outcomes), organisations can work within Indigenous knowledge systems to develop innovative solutions for adapting to climate change and restoring ecosystems.

Whakapapa (genealogy and connections) is also central to Mātauranga Māori values-driven management. Because Māori are literally related to certain mountains, rivers, and bodies of water, whakapapa acknowledges the interconnectedness of people, land, water and all living beings (Mihaere et al., 2024). Whakapapa encourages organisations to consider the long-term implications of their actions on future generations and to adopt a more holistic approach to environmental management that honours ancestral connections to the land.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Māori language version of The Treaty of Waitangi), signed in 1840 between the British Crown and many Māori chiefs, was to establish a partnership based on mutual respect, protection, and participation. There is great complexity around Te Tiriti and its principles. It has frequently not been honoured by the crown (Orange, 2021; Walker, 1990). How it is interpreted continues to evolve. However, key to climate change adaptation and ecological work, is incorporating the principles of Te Tiriti into environmental management in Aotearoa. Te Tiriti acknowledges Māori have the right to the protection of their taonga (treasures) and continued development (Crow et al., 2020). These include land, waters, plants, animals, and other aspects of the living world. It ensures their involvement in decision-making processes. This partnership should foster collaboration, shared responsibility, and equitable access to the natural world, leading to more effective and culturally appropriate approaches to ecological regeneration and climate change adaptation.

Some examples of mātauranga Māori values-driven management being applied and interpreted in different ways include the granting of legal personhood to the Whanganui River and for Te Uruwera Forest (Taranaki Maunga, a mountain, is currently being considered) (Cribb et al., 2024). The Te Awa Tupua Act granted legal personhood to the Whanganui River in 2017, recognising it as a living entity with its own rights and identity. This legislation, a global first, established a framework for the river’s guardianship, integrating Māori cultural values into environmental management. This landmark legislation acknowledges the Whanganui River as an indivisible and living whole, possessing its own rights, identity, and legal standing. The Act establishes a framework for the river’s protection and management, with representatives from both the Māori iwi (tribes) and the government tasked with acting as kaitiaki (guardians) to ensure its wellbeing. These initiatives signify a paradigm shift towards holistic environmental stewardship, emphasising the interconnectedness of ecosystems and humans. 

By embracing mātauranga Māori values-driven management, organisations can enhance their capacity to address the complex challenges of ecological regeneration and climate change adaptation in ways that are culturally grounded, environmentally sustainable, and socially equitable. This approach not only benefits Indigenous communities but also contributes to broader efforts towards building a more resilient and harmonious relationship with the natural world.

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Name of NbS

Mātauranga Māori Values-driven Management

Type of NbS



  • Uran
  • Rural
  • Peri-urban.

Case Study

Tarawera River

Putauaki and the Tarawera River, 2008. Photo by Phillip Capper.

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

This nature-based solution is entirely based on knowledge and practice derived from Indigenous frameworks, values, and worldviews as discussed. 

Climate change benefits

Mātauranga Māori values-driven management is a management strategy that encompass multiple nature-based solutions depending on the situation where it is employed. The specific climate change benefits depend very much on the strategies used to enact a mātauranga Māori values-driven management plan, however, it has high potential to integrate Indigenous knowledge into climate change planning (Clapcott et al. 2018). See for example the maramataka case study.

Societal / socio-cultural benefits

Using a location-specific approach to adaptation to climate change better ensures the longevity of projects and allows for intergenerational success (Carter, 2019). In the context of Aotearoa, it is evident that there is an integral relationship between people and their environment, which must be leveraged and understood in order to adapt to climate change in just and equitable ways (Carter, 2019). This is likely true for many other parts of Te Moananui Oceania.

Ecological and biodiversity benefits

Kaitiakitanga creates a role of guardianship for people and the land (Carter, 2019). Mātauranga Māori values-driven management has lead to improved water management processes in multiple projects (Hikuroa 2011; Peacock et al., 2012).

Ka mura, ka muri – walking backwards into the future. Climate change is linked to the past, present and future. Image by Science Learn Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao, University of Waikato www.sciencelearn.org.nz.
The Whanganui River, 2007. Photo by Duane Wilkins.

Technical requirements

 To be able to implement mātauranga Māori values-driven management, mana whenua (Indigenous people of a specific place) must drive the process. Intergenerational changes should be taken into account, and ongoing adaptation processes should be included.

Issues and Barriers

The right people who hold whakapapa and knowledge related to particular areas must be involved in projects that are mātauranga Māori values-driven. The ongoing impacts of colonisation mean for a variety of reasons that such people may be rare and/or overworked. 


Using mātauranga Māori values-driven management allows for community-driven nature-based solutions. This will more likely ensure that nature-based solutions are best suited to the people and places they are located in, and that nature-based solutions are less likely to perpetuate neo-colonisation, even if accidental.

  • Awatere, S., Harmsworth, G., Mahuru, R. (2015). Mātauranga Māori Māori Knowledge. Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland. Landcare Research. Available online: https://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/assets/Publications/Te-reo-o-te-repo/7_Matauranga_Maori.pdf. Date accessed May 13, 2024.  
  • Carter, L. (2018). Indigenous Pacific Approaches to Climate Change: Aotearoa/New Zealand. Springer.
  • Clapcott, J., Ataria, J., Hepburn, C., Hikuroa, D., Jackson, A. M., Kirikiri, R., & Williams, E. (2018). Mātauranga Māori: shaping marine and freshwater futures. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research52(4), 457-466.
  • Cribb, M., Macpherson, E., & Borchgrevink, A. (2024). Beyond legal personhood for the Whanganui River: collaboration and pluralism in implementing the Te Awa Tupua Act. The International Journal of Human Rights, 1-24.
  • Crow, S. K., Tipa, G. T., Nelson, K. D., & Whitehead, A. L. (2020). Incorporating Māori values into land management decision tools. New Zealand journal of marine and freshwater research, 54(3), 431-448.
  • Hikuroa, D. (2017). Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 47(1), 5-10.
  • Mihaere, S., Holman-Wharehoka, M. T. O., Mataroa, J., Kiddle, G. L., Pedersen Zari, M., Blaschke, P., & Bloomfield, S. (2024). Centring localised indigenous concepts of wellbeing in urban nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation: case-studies from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 12, 1278235.

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