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Taking responsibility is our Permanency
23 April 2018

Transcription of CEO Te Uru Taumatua Kirsti Luke presenting a korero at the Interactive Dialogue on Harmony and Nature during the commemoration of International Mother Earth Day – General Assembly, 72nd session.

To the sovereignty and aspirations of member states, my admiration. To the organizers, panelists and people who celebrate earth day, my respect. My name is Kirsti I am an indigenous person, and that should not scare you.

All that means is that I am a person of the land. My behaviours, my values, my beliefs are foremost shaped by knowing that we have evolved from this land. Of course these lands are our mother, and the climate, the sky - our father. It is the grace and awe that we witness within that relationship, the majesty of those creatures that we come as humans to know and respect our own birth parents.

It is from the kinship of their siblings that make up nature, that we inherit our humility and gratitude that we are part of that whole. Our kinship with those connections creates the connectedness to all living life and with it comes our need to care about everything, and the wellbeing of all in order for the permanent, the sustainable wellbeing of me - care being the lifeforce of sustainability itself.

So I’m here to talk to you about a legal personality and a legal personhood granted to Te Urewera. Four years ago Tuhoe and the New Zealand government entered into a Treaty settlement, this included devolving a National Park. Like all treaty settlements, they are aimed to remedy the past wrongs of government, which in New Zealand were great in many. But while colonizing motives caused the harm, I can confirm to you, that they are generally hopeless in restoring it.

I’m sharing with you a bit of our focus for the granting of the legal personhood of Te Urewera and why. It is not the same thing as the motives of the New Zealand government, they have their own reasons. I am not a friend of the law, or what is more truthful is to say the law is not a friend of me. The law embeds mechanisms and beliefs that are not mine. I have struggled for many generations to comply and to live a life according to someone else’s beliefs – I am not very good at it.

Ownership represented a very big challenge and hurdle, and stood in the way of a Tuhoe way of life. Ownership and the owning of Te Urewera has been a mechanism to destroy belonging and care, and therefore community. Ownership grants entitlement without having earned it. It grants rights without having earned them. Ownership does not value kinship with the things around us, which means we do not innately care enough, it does not let us see wide enough our impacts then that we therefore have on the land. Rather, it feeds and nurtures self-interest. It effects our idea of time, it reduces this idea of time to one of MY time - a short time and not a long time. The impact of this is that it breeds very transactional relationships, between humans and the land, and the very thing that breeds transactional relationships between humans and each other - transactional relationships do not grow community.

So what did we do? What superior leverage weapon is this legal personhood granted Tuhoe that you may be able to use favourably in your situation. I don’t know.

The law has been the mechanism to embed somebody else’s beliefs and because of that, they do not allow me, they do not favour, value, prefer the way I choose and wish to live my life. Laws don’t do values and beliefs, they preserve somebody else’s set of rights. Te Urewera Act, and our reason for enabling a legal personality to apply to land was to withdrawal the law, was to filter out the motives, the agendas, the objectives that have been created by somebody else’s law, and the fabulous thing about the New Zealand government was they trusted us just enough to give this a go.

I think if you ask the professors in New Zealand what legal personality means, I think they will tell you that Te Urewera has legalized an eco-system, that Te Urewera now owns herself.

What I would say about that is that Te Urewera doesn’t care what I think. Te Urewera is going to outlive me, so this legal personality is a piece of law to remove human transactions, human thinking, human self-interest from land in order that our indigenous beliefs – the care, the kinship, the connectedness, the want to share things with each other, to hold things in common, to be concerned to build a future made up of strong, giving people. Strong humans are the things that manage excessive lifestyles – technology does not. We have seen this in our children for a very long time, and we have found no other way but to take a step into somebody else’s court room, and to ask that court to remove their rules in order that mine can apply.

But please you have nothing to fear, because in this future I wish to have it with you as well – there is nothing that you will lose. Te Urewera is not property. An ownership situation can only ever see mother earth as property, and property is something that is human made. Te Urewera is not property, Te Urewera is not real estate, Te Urewera is my mother – she gave Tuhoe life and continues too. She is the thing that gives me enjoyment, she reminds me that I am connected to these plants and other creatures and that I love them and that they love me. These are things humans are forgetting how to do.

So how’s it going now aye? Hows it working out, we are very young, four years, theres a lot more mistakes to make yet. I can tell you that through the legislation, as an indigenous group we now share and enjoy statutory function. So quietly that means that we get to make government administration planning decisions. Nobody died. The government is still very much the government.

The thing that is changing is that everyday, the New Zealand governments trusts me that I can do a good a job as they could have ever of done in our territory. It just so happens that a thousand years of memory and knowledge is a little bit useful. It just so happens while the New Zealand government has been concerned for Te Urewera, just like me, we are better off working together – we are each other’s best allies. We all want a future for our children, and their children. We all want security, peace, livelihood, that’s the thing we all have in common.

So one of the practical things that we have done is that we have giggled, and laughed, and poked fun at the New Zealand governments approach to conservation management, the government that has for a very long time promoted the idea that humans can manage the land, that somehow human superiority knows something that land and nature does not.  

Right now we are bringing to light our gaps. As I begun my name is Kirsti, I am an indigenous person that’s great for an opening. What that means in reality is that I am a colonized person, living a colonized reality. I am broken and full of disrepair, and I can’t wait to fix myself up – and I am making progress at it. So we are bringing to the light of day our own gaps, its really really painful. I have to say what I am not good at. We are forcing ourselves into roles we have not played before, finding the confidence and humility to do this. Our salvation is not through a legal framework nor through a sound business case, but in the belief that we are not a business, we are a community and we are a culture that operates on care. A place where we are the people of the land, we take responsibility for that relationship and that is in knowing that we are both teaching and being taught how we care for each other, for as ever for as possible. Thank you.

United Nations General Assembly, 72nd session

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