Your hapū are kaitiaki over the environment within your rohe. A key element of being kaitiaki and dealing with environmental issues is participating in decision-making about natural resources. In this article we will give an overview of the particular processes around this for Māori.

Natural resources are a hot commodity, subject to a range of competing interests including health and well-being, aesthetic values, economic development and intrinsic cultural values. Resources in New Zealand are usually managed by local government under the Resource Management Act 1991 (“the Act”).

Under the Act, local government must provide for and recognise the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wāhi tapu, and other taonga. There are various ways in which they can do this, such as national and local consultation or a transfer of powers to local iwi and hapū so that they can take a more active role in managing resources.

At a national level, the Minister for the Environment is required to consult with Māori on National Policy Statements, such as the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

At a local level, government is required to consult with tangata whenua about regional, district and local plans and policies. The purpose of this is to foster ongoing relationships and increase the capacity of tangata whenua to address resource management issues of particular relevance to them.

There is no explicit duty to consult on resource consent applications, but it is considered best practice. Where interests of Māori or other people are potentially affected, then submissions on the resource consent application may be sought. This is most likely to happen where local Māori have an established working relationship with their local government body, and their interests are known.

The Act also provides for local authorities to delegate their powers to local iwi or hapū groups, which can help tangata whenua to exercise their kaitiakitanga over the environment. This is currently done through joint management agreements, or more recently in Mana Whakahono a Rohe (iwi participation arrangements). 

Joint management agreements allow local government and iwi to work together in relation to resources in a specified area. These can be tailored for the particular area and its unique resources, as well as local Maori interests.

Mana Whakahono a Rohe, on the other hand, are agreements that provide the mechanisms for local Maori to participate in resource management processes. Again, these can be tailored to fit the particular needs and interests of the area and tangata whenua.

In summary, there are various processes available for tangata whenua to participate in decision making about their natural resources. It is important to take advice on your options and how to work more closely with local government in respect of your environment, in order to achieve the best outcome.   

We would be happy to discuss your particular situation further with you. Feel free to contact our Māori legal team or the article authors – Dr Bryan Gilling on or (04) 495 8930, or Cerridwen Bulow on or (04) 495 8915.