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Indigenous knowledge

Read how New Zealand is sharing our indigenous knowledge through world-leading Māori blue economy enterprises.
Man and boy with buckets on a sandy beach harvest shellfish together on a sunny blue sky day
© New Zealand Story

Indigenous knowledge – Definition

Indigenous knowledge is locally bound and unique to the location where it is traditionally developed. However, it is not uncommon to have similarities between different local communities around the world.

Indigenous knowledge – Opportunities

Every indigenous person also brings in 2 world views because they have grown up understanding and living within the western society but also with understandings and knowledge from their own culture.

The opportunities for bringing in indigenous knowledge to New Zealand’s blue economy is endless because the lens in which Māori see the world is with an holistic approach.

Indigenous knowledge – Global context

The relationship between people and the environment therefore forms an important foundation for the organisation of indigenous knowledge, the categorisation of life experiences, and the shaping of attitudes and patterns of thinking. Because human identity is regarded as an extension of the environment, there is an element of inseparability between people and the natural world. The individual is a part of all creation and the idea that the world or creation exists for the purpose of human domination and exploitation is absent from indigenous world-views.

Indigenous knowledge – New Zealand context

Worldwide, the deep cultural and spiritual ties New Zealand’s indigenous people have to their whenua (land), and the value of their mātauranga (knowledge) for ecological conservation is recognised by governments, industry and scientists (IPBES, 2019; IUCN, 2016).
Our holistic approach and consideration of the quadruple bottom line (cultural, environmental, social, and economical) are how we can provide the solutions the world needs for the challenges the world will face in the future (Mellish, 2022)

The marine environment is taonga (precious) for Māori – the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand. Māori are spiritually connected with moana (oceans) and its species. In te ao Māori (the Māori world and worldview) the mauri (life force) of a healthy moana (ocean) enhances the mauri of those who interact with it. Waitai (sea water) also spiritually cleanses and heals wairua (the spirit or soul of a person).

The blue economy is a useful start conceptually for Māori, but Māori emphasise that it must consider not just financial and natural capital but also social, human and cultural capital. These three need to be nested rather than the human and natural in service to financial capital. From an indigenous perspective, these ‘capitals’ are seen as nested, interacting spheres with natural capital encompassing all, human capital the next layer down as a subset of natural capital, and financial in the middle, as an abstraction of both natural and human capital. While mainstream economic approaches tend to treat these capitals as separate, distinct and equivalent, Māori see the natural (with humanity as part of this) as far more important.

One crucial set of transitioning initiatives towards a blue economy is to proliferate the key principles and related practices of a Māori marine economy. Expanding Māori marine economy in each targeted sector and encouraging initiatives framed under its principles will ensure just transitions.

Indigenous knowledge – Careers & case studies

Below are some video about indigenous knowledge and case studies to help expand your view of this topic. You do NOT need to read them all, however we recommend you select 2 or more of the topics that interest you, and use the provided links (or your own internet search) to investigate further:

Researchers: Heni Unwin & Te Rerekohu Tuterangiwhiu
Heni Unwin (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Rongomaiwahine, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Atihaunui-a-Papaarangi) and Te Rerekohu Tuterangiwhiu (Ngāpuhi, Taranaki, Ngāti Ranginui, Tainui) are both kairangahau researchers at Cawthron Institute who are passionate about bringing te reo o ngā hapū and a wider Te Ao Māori perspective to change the way we interact with our natural environment.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Te Au o Te Moana: Lara Taylor – Connections
Lara Taylor (Ngāti Tahu, Te Arawa, Ngāti Kahungunu,and Ngai Tahu. Kairangahau Māori, Manaaki Whenua) is a Landcare Research Project Co-Leader, Enabling Kaitiakitanga and EBM, Sustainable Seas Science Challenge. Lara shares her future-thinking past-connecting story – “I want to help through my research, other people to reconnect. Re-connect with themselves and their whakapapa and their place within Aotearoa and their connections to the environment as well, because I think that’s all interconnected.”

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

NZ Maritime Museum talk: The Māori marine economy (2019)
Researchers Nick Lewis and Jason Mika discuss how can we best develop our marine economy, while protecting the taonga of our marine environment. Jason explores how Māori are leading the way in creating a new ‘blue’ economy for Aotearoa.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Moana New Zealand – Sustainability Strategy
Moana is the largest Māori–owned fisheries company in New Zealand, and this document reflects a unique indigenous perspective in the ocean.

Examples from your country

Do you have any examples of how indigenous knowledge is being used to promote sustainable oceans? Please share in the comments section below.


  • Marine environment and Māori. Ministry for the Environment. (2021).
  • Creating value from a blue economy. Lewis, et al. (2020).
  • Seafood New Zealand Key Facts.
  • Measuring New Zealand’s blue economy. Yeoman, R., Fairgray, D., & Lin, B. (2019).
  • IPBES, W. (2019). Intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Summary for Policy Makers of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
  • IUCN. (2016). International Union for Conservation of Nature annual report 2016.
  • Mellish, L. (2022, 7/06/2022). The Great Acceleration: Emerging Stronger Together. Paper presented at the Australian New Zealand Leadership Forum, Sydney, Australia.
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