Story: Kaitiakitanga – guardianship and conservation

Page 7. Kaitiakitanga today

All images & media in this story


Kaitiakitanga today is being rediscovered and explored. Māori communities are reconstructing and expressing traditional knowledge in their tribal areas. They are restoring both environmental areas and tribal knowledge of those places.

Kaitiakitanga in action

There are many examples of contemporary kaitiakitanga.

  • The Ngāi Tahu tribe are kaitiaki of the pounamu (greenstone) resource in the South Island.
  • In 1981, a claim was taken to the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of Te Āti Awa ki Taranaki, about sewage and industrial waste polluting tribal fishing areas.
  • At Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington, the Ngāti Toa tribe worked with the residents’ association to place a rāhui (restriction) on taking seafood, so the local fishery could be replenished.
  • Four tribes (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne, Muaūpoko and Ngāti Raukawa) have come together to address pollution of the Manawatū River.
  • The Te Rarawa people are working to protect the kūkupa (New Zealand pigeon).


There are some challenges in applying kaitiakitanga today. Practitioners need to understand traditional concepts such as mana (status), tapu (spiritual restriction) and mauri (the life principle), and relate them to the modern setting.

There are also challenges as non-Māori engage with kaitiakitanga. Forest or waterway management involves parties such as land-owners and regional authorities, who may have different world views and values.


Kaitiakitanga has been included in some legislation. The Resource Management Act 1991 aims to enable sustainable management of environmental resources. It states that people managing resources under the act must take kaitiakitanga into account.

The act defines kaitiakitanga as ‘the exercise of guardianship by the tangata whenua of an area in accordance with tikanga Māori in relation to natural and physical resources; and includes the ethic of stewardship’.

Kaitiakitanga was also included in the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, where it has the same meaning.


As kaitiakitanga has been included in law, interest has grown considerably. Iwi (tribes) have seen these provisions as a chance to further kaitiakitanga in their traditional areas. In bringing kaitiakitanga into law, the government has put tribal interests and hopes within a wider community context. Tribal groups often negotiate with other groups such as local authorities. This has led to ongoing debate about kaitiakitanga and how to provide for it in New Zealand’s environmental management regime.

Māori and non-Māori

Kaitiakitanga allows Māori today to feel they are meeting the responsibilities and hopes of their ancestors. It also allows non-Māori to reflect on the notion of kinship with nature, and how this idea might be useful in an environmentally threatened world.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Kaitiakitanga – guardianship and conservation - Kaitiakitanga today', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007