Integrating Indigenous Knowledge and Freshwater Management

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Freshwater environments are challenged by multiple pressures from all parts of society, as well as contests over ownership and availability as a public or private resource. In many parts of the world, indigenous peoples are one part of society asserting rights in relation to water and advocating for the inclusion of indigenous knowledge within policy frameworks. Aotearoa New Zealand provides a fascinating case study of efforts to demonstrate the value and utility of indigenous knowledge (mātauranga Māori) in addressing contemporary issues of freshwater management. National policy statements for freshwater now recognize the role of Māori communities in decision-making and acknowledge the potential for mātauranga Māori to inform the management of freshwater. In a regional context, treaty settlements have resulted in specific provisions for tribal (iwi) consultation and engagement, and the formulation of iwi management plans that will underpin freshwater management into the future. The New Zealand experience illustrates the challenges of integrating different value sets and knowledge traditions as part of the governance and management regime. We argue that “post-normal” science provides a theoretical basis for problem-solving complex issues related to science and indigenous knowledge based on the notion that uncertainty, value loading, and the plurality of legitimate perspectives are an integral part of the context for policy making, particularly for the natural environment.