Indigenous Peoples and their Relationship with Land 

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Many differences can be drawn when comparing Indigenous peoples relationship with land and the Western concept of property. Throughout this text, examples of these differences will be highlighted and related to the Indigenous people of New Zealand - Maori.

Traditionally, the indigenous relationship with their land involves the fundamental idea of them being interconnected to their land and its resources - they occupy and take care of the land, they do not own it. This idea already greatly differs from the more anthropocentric view displayed by western culture when regarding their relationship with the land. This involves the basic idea of owning the land and its resources. The idea of interconnection is very prominent in Maori culture which greatly values a more holistic approach compared to the before mentioned anthropocentric approach of westerners. Interconnection will be a crucial idea when explaining following aspects of the special relationship between indigenous peoples and their land later on.

Resource ownership is the source for major differences between indigenous and western concepts of land occupation/ownership. As mentioned before, western culture involves a more anthropocentric view when regarding their land, this does not differ when discussing resource ownership. Western tradition has historically viewed the occupants of land as outright owners of said land, following this, it also means that there is an underlying idea of resource exploitation for the owner’s benefit. Compared to indigenous views, where the individuals occupying the land only use the resources found when needed, and with care and gratitude. The Maori population displays this idea thoroughly, where they do not see themselves as above or superior to the land and its resources enough to warrant the ability to exploit it.

Following the above idea, we can explain the Maori viewpoint of land occupation and resource use by drawing from the idea of “kaitiakitanga”. Kaitiakitanga in general proposes the idea that people 'become one with the environment, through love, respect and understanding'. Watkins suggests that kaitiakitanga revolves around spiritual power rather than physical and controlling power. Once again this can be related back to the interconnection between Maori and the land, whilst also reinforcing the idea that Maori do not view themselves as superior to nature, disabling themselves from exercising control and exploitation of resources. Therefore for the concept of Kaitiakitanga to exist, Maori need to demonstrate caretaker motives in regards to their land and its resources. Although “kaitiakitanga” is a Maori term, the underlying concept of it can be related to most indigenous relationships to their lands outside of Maori and New Zealand.

Another Maori concept that is valuable in this discussion is “taonga”. Taonga can be described as the embodiment of all the objects including natural resources, that are highly prized and valued. This concept is important for the understanding of Maori and once again other indigenous populations and their relationship to their land for multiple reasons. As mentioned before, western culture traditionally sees its individuals as owners of the land and its resources. The land and resources can be subject for exploitation to the benefit of the owner. The concept of taonga however would not allow this to occur in Maori culture as the land and its resources fall into the category of highly prized and valued.

Indigenous people and here more specifically Maori people, value the land in which they occupy as highly valuable and special, and in doing so, live lives where they take care of the land as one would do when in possession of something they highly value. Although western culture can also take care of their land, the difference between that and indigenous and Maori culture once again relates back to the idea of being interconnected with the land. The western viewpoint for taking care of the land often stems from personal reasons such as landscaping, where the goal is to make the land better visually. Whereas indigenous culture takes care of their land because they are connected to it, not only physically but also spiritually. The care taken is not only for the benefit of the occupiers, but also the land itself. The concept of taonga encompasses “both the physical and metaphysical, perceiving each to be interdependent on, and therefore inseparable from, one another'.'

The different world views between indigenous people and westerners is another source of discussion. Compared to the anthropocentric stylised world view of western culture, indigenous culture features a more holistic centralised world view. When relating this holistic world view to Maori culture, it can be understood that traditionally the land and resources of the land, such as forests and bodies of water are regarded as living entities. Because of this, these entities become more than sources of personal gain through exploitation. This way of thinking differs greatly to western culture, where the lack of this personification allows the exploitation and outright ownership of the land and its resources. Following this idea of viewing the land and its resources as living entities, Maori can achieve an “intimate possession of the environment obtained through a deeper understanding of its needs and characteristics.. .' This “intimate” possession of the environment has the most similarities to the outright ownership of land often displayed in western culture. However, this idea of achieving deeper understanding and characteristics of the environment also reinforces the difference between the two cultures and their world views especially in regards to their relationship to the land. 

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Indigenous Peoples and Their Relationship with Land . (2021, Oct 08). Retrieved April 24, 2024 , from

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