The Interconnectedness of People and Planet

Learning from Maori Worldviews

Executive Summary

Many Indigenous perspectives on health and well-being are well aligned with the emerging field of planetary health. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Indigenous Māori population has long understood the interconnectedness between the natural environment and human health and well-being. This is reflected in Māori worldviews and their conceptualization of health and well-being: hauora.i Hauora values a number of dimensions, including the emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well-being of families. It also articulates the fluidity that exists within the Māori sense of identity: that an individual’s personhood hinges not only on one’s physical health, but also on the well-being and protection of their community and the natural world.

Despite this deep understanding of the integrated nature of human health and a flourishing natural environment, Māori and Indigenous people worldwide are among the groups most vulnerable to environmental change. These changes exacerbate the ongoing effects of colonialism, and the destruction of the natural world has significant implications on the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of Māori tribes.

The New Zealand government has made some progress in recognizing and modeling Māori worldviews of health and well-being in its healthcare and natural resource policies—though many shortcomings remain. This case reiterates the importance of meaningful relationship-building and partnership in order to learn from Indigenous ways of knowing to strengthen our ability to address the unique challenges faced in the Anthropocene.

A Note on Language

This case study uses the te reo Māori terms for Māori concepts. Te reo Māori, which translates to “the Māori language,” is an official language of New Zealand. Around 55% of Māori adults have some ability to speak te reo Māori, and the language is increasingly used in official government documents and in the media.

While it’s difficult to directly translate concepts to definitions, this case study draws from the explanations received by the case study author and confirmed by the case study reviewer. Te reo Māori proficiency is one of the measures used to gauge a person’s cultural well-being. The te reo Māori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, is also used in this case. Both describe the island country.

Finally, this case indicates iwi (tribe) affiliations. Iwi identities are listed in parentheses after the first mention of a person’s name.

This case study was drafted based on interviews conducted in Aotearoa New Zealand in July and August 2019. It was reviewed by Gabrielle Baker (Ngāpuhi) in September 2019.

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This case study was written by Hilary Duff

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The Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 340 universities, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to understanding and addressing global environmental change and its health impacts.
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