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Kaitiakitanga can be loosely translated to mean guardianship. As Māori, we often use this term to describe environmental protectors, whether that be interpreted as human or animal guardians.
Kaitiakitanga, in a historic context, referred to care and protection of the land, which, we as Māori respect and affiliate very strongly with. We used the guiding principles of kaitiakitanga to look after the world around us, by applying traditional practices to the way we hunted, gathered food, and farmed.
This includes concepts such as rāhui, where a temporary ban is put on an area of land or sea to allow for repopulation, so that total depletion of kaimoana is avoided. A rāhui can also be put on a place where someone has died recently. An example of this is if someone has drowned at a beach, a rāhui is put in place and you must avoid swimming there until it has been lifted properly.
Although the way we relate to kaitiakitanga has changed somewhat as our people have adjusted to a different time and context, though the key tenets of contemporary kaitiakitanga have remained the same.
Down south, in the dominant tribe of Ngai Tahu, they have become the kaitiaki of pounamu. Māori have a strong affinity with water as well, this has been a highly controversial and topical issue in the media lately within the context of ‘ownership’ of waterways. Many iwi across the motu have taken it upon themselves, or banded together, to keep their rivers, lakes, and streams clean and pollution free—this is a modern form of kaitiakitanga.
It’s such an intrinsic part of our Māori culture and a role that I hope our people will continue to uphold and cherish. Our past has always informed our present and future and this is one part that we must never lose.