Ancestors for sale in Aotearoa-New Zealand

Authored by: Marama Muru-Lanning

The Routledge Companion to Cultural Property

Print publication date:  July  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138812642
eBook ISBN: 9781315641034
Adobe ISBN:


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M?ori are passionately concerned about the appropriation of natural resources in their ancestral territories through processes of colonisation and more recently privatisation. Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) is a fundamental M?ori concept that over the past three decades has been intimately linked with the protection and wellbeing of natural resources. This chapter explores the complex and diverse nature of M?ori responses to the recent wave of electricity-generating asset privatisations in Aotearoa-New Zealand. I ask: how does the privatisation of natural resources, those used in hydro, geothermal and wind electricity generation and that are referred to by M?ori as taonga (treasures), t?puna (ancestors), wh?nau (family) and atua (supernatural beings) alter M?ori understandings of their ancestral territories and their relationships with the Crown? Furthermore, the chapter also examines what kaitiakitanga of natural resources means in contemporary times, and how M?ori understand their role as kaitiaki (guardians) in the context of privatisating freshwater and geothermal resources. My aim is to show how M?ori negotiate and understand their kaitiaki commitments even though their experiences and responses to privatisation may be different. These questions highlight the challenges when competing discourses come together and when cultural property moves away from the more straightforwardly negotiated domain of museums and collections, which have a long history of power sharing and collaboration, into the private sector.

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