Freshwater is taonga (precious) for Māori

Māori consider water to be sacred. In te ao Māori (Māori worldview) each body of water has its own mauri. Tribal identity is closely linked to freshwater. 

For Māori, great care must be taken in managing human impacts on freshwater. To honour the mana of water requires practices and policies that first acknowledge the needs of the body of water. Māori believe that only once these needs have been met can the water sustain the community and iwi.

Find out more in Our freshwater 2020 environmental report

How polluted freshwater affects Māori

Loss of cultural identity

In te ao Māori people are part of the environment. Degraded waterways and the loss of native species can cause a disconnection in identity and culture for Māori.

Cultural practices like raranga (weaving) and rongoa use native species and natural materials. When waterways become polluted these materials can become more scarce.

The gradual loss of these cultural practices can affect mātauranga (knowledge systems), and whakaheke kōrero (passing knowledge to the next generation) and ahikāroa (connection with place).

Taking water can be upsetting for some Māori communities. This is because taking water can have an effect on the mauri (life force) of a waterway. Building artificial structures like dams in rivers and taking water from one catchment and releasing it into another can be particularly offensive to Māori. This is because the cultural and spiritual connection to the waterway is disrupted.

Ability to mahinga kai is threatened

Many Māori communities rely on freshwater for food gathering and hospitality.

With loss of species and ecosystems, the ability to fish and gather food may be reduced. Losing the ability to collect mahinga kai can affect the mana of an iwi, hapū, or whanau and prevent them from providing food to their guests. 

Heavy metals and other pollutants in our freshwater can accumulate in food sources like fish and shellfish. This makes them unsafe to eat. This can be especially dangerous for Māori communities who eat more eels and other wild-caught freshwater species.

Find out more in Our freshwater 2020 environmental report