Representing the Rights of Nature: Learning from the Maori

To combat the vast environmental problems which we face, we need to develop new strategies for protecting the non-human environment. One promising strategy has been to grant ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and mountains, legal personhood. These entities then possess the legal rights to protect their interests from human exploitation. This strategy has been most successful in New Zealand, where since 2017 several ecosystems have been granted legal personhood. Indigenous Mãori groups are typically the driving force behind these changes, Mãori worldviews are reflected in the legal policies, and Mãori tribes stand as guardians of nature’s rights. This ground-breaking model of environmental protection combines Western legal frameworks with indigenous worldviews to decolonise dominant approaches to environmental governance. This project will undertake an interdisciplinary analysis of this model, to discover what drivers might be applicable to a European context, and what attitudes and institutions could support legitimate guardianship of nature’s rights.