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September 10, 2018 | by  | in Opinion Te Ao Mārama | [ssba]

Māori Environmentalism

For me, my zero waste journey began long before I had realised. It began before I moved to Wellington. After having lived in a suburban home in Tauranga that had piggie buckets, compost bins, veggie gardens, fruit trees and home kill at our disposal. It began before our mother knit almost every piece of clothing we had as kids and before our father taught us how to be Maori minimalists. It began even before I was born, with my mother descending from a farming whānau of Te Atiawa and Te Atihau and It began before any of you reading this were born. I am Tūhoe. My Father is Tūhoe, his Father is Tūhoe, his Father is Tūhoe, and even… our tupuna as Ngai Tūhoe are the ngahere – Te Urewera. I was born from the forest giving me the intrinsic desire to protect my tupuna in whichever ways I can.

I consciously started this journey in 2016 when I ordered my first ever online Countdown shop that came in twenty or more plastic bags. I was horrified. I made a decision that day that I would never shop online again and invest in reusable bags. Little did I know, this small change was to have a flow on to my life today and for those around me.

One thing I have learnt through this journey is that Māori feel stories through sound and touch, we don’t ever really read or write them. At the marae we spend hours listening to the stories of our koroua and kuia i muri ki rā, we are enveloped by stories of our tupuna through our tukutuku, and we sing these stories of mamae, loss, revitalisation and love through our waiata as iwi, hapū and whānau.. This way of storytelling has given me the mana to voice my story passed on to me from my kuia, koroua, tupuna and whānau. This is my why.

A thought I go back to during all of this is how plastic has removed the relationship Māori have with their whenua. I first thought of this when making one of my first conscious zero-waste decisions – I vowed to stop buying produce in plastic or put them into plastic bags. I immediately noticed two things. Tuatahi: there is far too much produce in plastic (why do we need apples in a tennis ball shoot?). And tuarua: I protected my kai as if it were still living. I started by placing my produce into one section of the trolley so my other kai didn’t squash it. I put it all up on the conveyor belt at the end so I could pack them into my veggie bag. When home, instead of throwing out my old produce to replace with my new ones, I boiled them to create a veggie stock. I felt a responsibility and relationship to this kai. Without plastic I could feel the dirt on the potato, the vulnerable skin of the tomato and minuteness of the chilli.

I have always been a Māori minimalist (thanks Dad), a Māori who grew up learning that if the five siblings before you didn’t get it, or your parents didn’t get it at your age, you certainly aren’t getting it – that money is for bills. So off I went, 13 years old a kitchen hand slave because if you’re Māori and want anything material (do the movies count?) you gotta get a job. This early introduction to work not only taught me that I love working but still have no savings, but that there are alternatives to waste everywhere. In the past 10 years, I have shopped in more second-hand stores, found pre-loved trash on the side of the road and taken on copious amounts of “expired food” than I have ever had to ask my parents for money. Fast-fashion, reproduction of items and food waste are the greatest contributors to the world’s waste. Second hand clothing, footpath treasures and “expired food” have become a part of my identity. E hoa mā, find something that is zero waste and came a part of your identity too.

My top 3 tips to being zero waste.

  1. Start small, this will lead to big changes. I started by not using plastic bags at the supermarket, now I take my own containers to the deli, don’t buy any products on plastic and I hope to start using a Bin Inn eventually.
  2. Don’t be whakama. Take that container to the sushi shop! Be that green freak that rinses their recycling for the work bin! Wear that natural deodorant even if you “smell”!
  3. Teach others. I have learnt the positive affect I can have on others by the changes I have made. My sister one year ago had a container full of plastic bags that I suggested she got a reusable bag for instead, one year later she messages me constantly about..


A karakia performed by our koroua to us before we go for a hunt, collect kai from the forest or go for a walk:

Ko te amorangi ki mua

Ko te hapai o ki muri

Ki roto i wā tatou nei haerena

Ki roto ki te waonui

Ā Tane

You must put all godly things

Before manly things

When you travel into the great forest

Of Tāne Mahuta


Nā Meikura Williams

Ngāi Tūhoe


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