Protecting Māori interests

For Māori the coast was traditionally a place to live and to source food, as well as being fundamental to travel and communication. While Māori settlement was not limited to the coast, the coast has always been dominant in living and food-gathering activities. Inland tribes often accessed kaimoana (seafood) by way of putanga (corridors to the coast). Traditional tribal linkages around the coast were maintained well into the twentieth century by communication which was dominated by sea routes.

Māori culture, and its historic and contemporary features, only exist in New Zealand. Poor resource management can lead to the permanent loss of these irreplaceable cultural heritage resources. Important elements of the relationship of Māori with the coastal environment include their ongoing ability to use coastal resources and to associate with important historic sites, natural features and cultural landscapes.


Māori culture is given particular recognition by the RMA which requires decision-makers to recognise and provide for the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wāhi tapu and other taonga 3215  and the protection of protected customary rights. 3216  In addition, decision-makers must have particular regard to kaitiakitanga 3217  and take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. 3218

However, relationships between tangata whenua and the planning process have not been well provided for in some cases and there needs to be improved protection of the features of the coastal environment that hold special value for tangata whenua. As such, the NZCPS 2010 identifies the Treaty of Waitangi as one of the seven national objectives. It also provides for tangata whenua involvement in the management of the coastal environment through a number of mechanisms. Objective 3  focuses on addressing Māori issues on the coast.

The objective seeks to recognise the enduring relationship tangata whenua have over their lands, rohe and resources by providing for their more meaningful engagement in coastal decision-making. The objective also seeks greater recognition of Māori knowledge and values. There is an expectation that Māori will be more active participants, particularly in the preparation of cultural impacts assessments and iwi management plans to inform planning documents, as well as incorporating ma-tauranga Māori into sustainable management practices. Achieving the objective requires an improvement in the interactions between tangata whenua and planning authorities, developers and the community.

There is other legislation that is important to Māori interests in the coastal environment, including the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011, the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993, the Historic Places Act 1993 and the Local Government Act 2002.


Pressures and impacts on the relationship between Māori and the coastal environment from development include:

  • Sedimentation and pollution of marine areas which impacts on the quality and quantity of kaimoana stocks
  • The loss of intertidal areas, through coastal works such as reclamations and seawalls, which reduces the areas where kaimoana can be harvested and modifies coastal landscapes
  • The destruction of culturally important sites through earthworks and construction activities, and the vulnerability of culturally important sites to sea-level rise and erosion
  • The degradation of culturally important natural features and landscapes through inappropriate development
  • Rising land prices which can increase rates for marae and papakāinga (development of a communal nature on ancestral land owned by Māori) and make the sale of coastal land attractive

There are also key challenges relating to managing the relationship between Māori and the coastal environment:

  • A lack of effective engagement between tangata whenua and councils at the stage of plan and policy statement preparation and review. Currently, participation of tangata whenua is primarily at the resource consent stage which is not proactive and can be time consuming
  • A lack of capacity and capability for tangata whenua to participate effectively in resource management processes
  • A lack of effective engagement between tangata whenua, users and developers at the resource consent application stage

New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement

The NZCPS 2010 has two main policies which address the interests of Māori in the coastal environment being Policy 2 (The Treaty of Waitangi, tangata whenua and Māori heritage) and Policy 6(d) (Activities in the coastal environment). Together these policies aim to protect the relationship of Māori with coastal resources, through recognising the cultural importance of ongoing access and use, protecting their association with cultural landscapes and providing for effective development of relationships with councils and developers (also included as part of Policy 17).

The Department of Conservation has recently prepared a guidance note for implementing Policy 2 which identifies five key themes for giving effect to the direction of the NZCPS 2010 as far as Māori issues are concerned. These are:

  • Kaitiakitanga
  • Māori cultural and heritage values, sites and places
  • Māori involvement in resource management plans and decision-making
  • Consultation
  • Taking account of planning documents recognised by iwi and hapu-

Use of coastal resources and exercising kaitiakitanga

The balance between land management and impacts on the marine environment are critical to coastal Māori. Gathering of kaimoana, both for sustenance and to provide for visitors, is an integral component of Māori life. When those resources are compromised by inappropriate development, a way of life is also compromised.

The ongoing ability to access specific land-based natural resources is also important and this is recognised by Policy 2. It sets out that methods should be provided to support the management, maintenance and protection of the taonga of tangata whenua. This includes consultation and improving tangata whenua involvement in decision-making. In addition, it is likely to include access to weaving materials and medicinal plants on land which has been alienated from the whanau.

Access may have been available for harvest through informal or assumed permission but this can disappear, as can the resources themselves, as a result of development. Frequently the resources themselves may not be endangered or even rare in the wider district, but the specific location, and the specific whanau access to and use of the location, may be part of a cultural landscape of on-going experience.

The NZCPS 2010 expects that a cultural understanding will be brought to the regulation and monitoring of any natural resources. This includes providing opportunities for tangata whenua to exercise kaitiakitanga over waters, forests, lands and fisheries in the coastal environment which is inherent in Policy 2(f). A number of measures are listed which can be used including bringing cultural understanding to monitoring, providing appropriate methods to protect taonga, and having regard to fisheries sustainability measures applied through taiāpure and mahinga mātaitai.

The Department of Conservation guidance note states that tangata whenua need to have the opportunity to exercise kaitiakitanga in accordance with tikanga Māori. This can be achieved by enabling their on-going involvement with natural resources in their area. Hearing and understanding the views of tangata whenua on the exercise of kaitiakitanga, and letting those views influence decision-making, are good first steps in implementing Policy 2(f). In addition, Policy 6(1)(d) acknowledges the importance of tangata whenua needs for papakāinga, marae and associated developments and requires councils to make appropriate provision for these in planning documents.

Connections with cultural landscapes

The historic elements of a cultural landscape frequently have high significance for tangata whenua and this many not be known to, or fully appreciated by, others. In some cases this cultural linkage can be readily accommodated when development occurs, such as sites containing koiwi (human remains) being preserved. Other relationships may have little physical manifestation, such as the location of an important meeting place, or an ancestor’s birthplace, or a place where bodies were cleaned. Although these sites are culturally important, they may be given much less consideration in the development process.

The Department of Conservation guidance note emphasises that the definition of historic heritage applies to a historic landscape, not just a site. References remain in the oral tradition of whanau, hapū and iwi to landforms and features. A hill may be a reference point used in pepeha or whakatauki (proverbs) used to identify a marae, and may be visible from the marae. It can be difficult to refer to these landmarks in mihi (formal speeches) when they are being compromised by inappropriate development.

In this regard the NZCPS 2010 recognises, through Policy 2, the importance of protecting Māori cultural and heritage values through tools such as preparing landscape and cultural impact assessments. In addition, historic analysis, archaeological survey, alert layers and predictive methodologies can be used to better identify and protect areas and sites of special value to Māori.

Managing the relationship

An essential component of managing the relationship between Māori and coastal resources is effective communication and the NZCPS 2010 stresses the importance of this. It emphasises the relationship between developers (and consent authorities) and tangata whenua. Relationships should be initiated early on in any development project, appropriate expertise should be sought, and a genuine effort made to resolve any issues.

Policy 2 provides for the involvement of iwi authorities or hapū, on behalf of tangata whenua, in the preparation of regional policy statements and plans. This should be achieved by undertaking effective consultation with tangata whenua as early and as meaningfully as possible. It also recognises the need to incorporate mātauranga Māori (Māori customary knowledge, traditional knowledge or intergenerational knowledge) in planning documents, including in the consideration of resource consent applications and other similar processes. For example, Policy 21 directs that tangata whenua are to be engaged to identify areas of coastal waters where they have a particular interest in order to address cultural issues around sedimentation and pollution of coastal waters. In addition, Policy 23(3) directs that objectives, policies and rules in plans which provide for the discharge of treated human sewage into waters of the coastal environment must have been subject to early and meaningful consultation with tangata whenua.

The disclosure of sensitive information is recognised by the Department of Conservation guidance note as a key challenge for meaningful integration of iwi and hapū interests into the local government resource management decision-making process. There are situations when tangata whenua may wish the location of taonga such as a wāhi tapu to remain confidential and this can create challenges for RMA planning and decision-making processes.

Where possible, the affected tangata whenua should be provided with access to professional advice. There is clear direction in Policy 2(e)(ii) which encourages practical assistance to be given to iwi or hapū- when they want to develop iwi resource management plans but are not well resourced to do so. Such assistance can help with clearly communicating the nature of the RMA, and the specifics of the development impacts, to tangata whenua in their own terms. In return, tangata whenua responses need to be understood and communicated back to the developer and consent authority. Expert advice is not easily available, but without experts such as pūkenga (a person skilled or versed in the customary and traditional knowledge, tikanga, arts, histories and genealogies of a particular iwi or hapū) tangata whenua may fail to communicate their genuine concerns. This can result in ongoing conflict when concerns could have been resolved early on.

Best practice planning elements

(1) Identify and protect significant elements of the Māori relationship with the coast

Plans should identify and protect any significant and important elements of the relationship between Māori and coastal resources.

  • Describe the nature of the relationships that tangata whenua have with the sites, areas, features and other resources they treasure
  • Identify on planning maps sites of significance to Māori
  • Where sites have not been fully identified, incorporate ‘alert layers’ indicating where there is a potential for impact on sites of significance to Māori to trigger certain actions
  • Describe the types of activities and the effects that are likely to impact on the interests of tangata whenua
  • Specify whether certain types of applications will be publicly notified or whether tangata whenua will be deemed to be an affected party requiring notification.
  • Specify ways in which kaitiakitanga may be provided for
  • Adopt methods for building the capacity of tangata whenua to engage and consult effectively

Example: Waikato Regional Coastal Plan Chapter 2 Tangata Whenua Perspective

2.4 Tangata Whenua Relationship with the Coast.

Issue: In the past little recognition has been given to cultural, spiritual and traditional values of tangata whenua. This lack of recognition has meant the values tangata whenua hold in relation to the coast have been ignored.

Objective: Recognise and provide for the special relationship which tangata whenua have with the coastal environment.

Method 17.1.3 Identification of Areas/Characteristics of Special Value: Environment Waikato will work with tangata whenua over time to identify areas or characteristics of special value that require protection from use or development in the CMA.

(2) Include provisions for ensuring the resource consent process promotes protection of Māori values

There are a number of opportunities, through the resource consent process, to protect Māori values.

  • Include rules for resource consenting which address specific concerns of local tangata whenua, such as access to sites of significance
  • Require mitigation measures offered as part of resource consent applications to address tangata whenua interest or concerns
  • Develop conditions during the assessment process to avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects on tangata whenua
  • Provide for tangata whenua to be actively involved in the monitoring of consent conditions where they have an identified interest in the outcome the condition is seeking to achieve
  • Reinforce the value of undertaking consultation as early as possible in the development of proposals and of undertaking meaningful and effective consultation

Example: Whangarei District Plan

73.3.1 Allotment Area: Control is reserved over: … (iii) The location of proposed allotment boundaries, building areas and access ways or right-of-ways so as to avoid sites of historic and cultural heritage including Sites of Significance to Māori.

73.3.17 Rule Earthworks: Subdivision is a controlled activity if: … (c) No earthworks occur within a Site of Significance to Māori.

73.4 Principal Reasons for Rules/Explanations: Sites of Significance to Māori. This rule prevents the splitting up of mapped sites by subdivision. Sites must be entirely within one of the lots produced by the subdivision. This is to protect the cultural values and the integrity of Sites of Significance to Māori.

(3) Support non-statutory planning tools which promote protection of Māori values

There are a number of other tools which can be used to promote the protection of Māori interests in the coastal environment.

  • Provide opportunities for the promotion of education on cultural heritage and the relationship between Māori and their taonga
  • Provide financial and other incentives for Māori to protect important sites and values
  • Adequately fund the maintenance and enhancement of council-owned coastal reserve land to ensure Māori values are protected
  • Support the preparation of iwi planning documents by providing funding, resources, project management personnel, assistance with policy writing, or assistance with editing
  • Involve tangata whenua in any key actions which affect their interests

Best practice design elements

Development design which protects Māori values on the coast can include the following:

(1) Undertake a cultural impact assessment

A key tool for protecting the relationship between tangata whenua and coastal resources is a cultural impact assessment which can identify how the development may impact on tangata whenua values.

  • Undertake the assessment as early as possible, preferably prior to a resource consent application being lodged or a plan change being notified
  • Incorporate oral history
  • Incorporate archaeological evidence
  • Identify flora and fauna of cultural significance
  • Identify wāhi tapu
  • Address access to cultural resources by tangata whenua

Example: Cultural Impact Assessment for Matakana Island by Blakely Pacific

The purpose of this report is to assess the potential cultural impact of a development proposal on tangata whenua. The report identifies and describes Māori cultural values associated with the development site, identifies the impacts on tangata whenua, evaluates the effects of the proposed activity on cultural values and recommends measure to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects on tangata whenua.

(2) Recognise and incorporate important values into development

Developments can incorporate tangata whenua values where appropriate.

  • Consult with tangata whenua early on to identify any issues of significance to them, and where significant issues are identified, commission a cultural impact assessment
  • Incorporate significant past and existing relationships between iwi and coastal resources within the design
  • Acknowledge tangata whenua expertise and respect their intellectual property rights
  • Describe the nature of the relationships that tangata whenua have with the sites, areas, features and other resources they treasure
  • Develop protocols which, during construction, manage impacts on previously undiscovered cultural resources and record site information
  • Where appropriate, incorporate cultural motifs, carvings and other tangata whenua design components into the development
  • Incorporate native vegetation rather than exotic and encourage cultural harvesting of materials

Example: Mountain Landing, Bay of Islands

This coastal development has made provision for a continued relationship between local hāpu and the land. Access is provided over the land to enable kaimoana gathering. Local hāpu members have also been employed to assist with the initial development of infrastructure and ongoing land restoration and development.

  1. Section 6(e) RMA

  2. Section 6(g) RMA

  3. Section 7(a) RMA

  4. Section 8 RMA

Last updated at 5:01PM on February 2, 2018