Māori should be front and centre of climate change and weather disaster responses
Claire Charters is the Rongomau Taketake, Indigenous Rights Governance Partner, at Te Kahui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission. OPINION: In little more than a day, the Government announced and closed submissions on its amendment to the Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Bill . That is one of two laws that will affect the long recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle . In the scramble to make a submission, one feature of the bill was clear. It falls short of the Crown's obligation to upholding tino rangatiratanga, set out in te Tiriti o Waitangi. READ MORE: * Maori communities impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle receive $15m in support * Chris Hipkins commits to 'build back better', anticipating billions needed for cyclone recovery * Human Rights Commission calls for government to commit to co-governance The bill does not refer to te Tiriti anywhere within its provisions. Nor does it specifically refer to whanau, hapu and iwi. This is a worrying oversight, because the Crown has a Tiriti responsibility to partner with Maori , including in responding to disasters. The Waitangi Tribunal demands this to balance out the Maori-Crown relationship, which structurally favours the Crown. Further, the bills provisions do not meet standards set out in a raft of international agreements, from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the OECD, to climate change agreements. States are required to address the specific impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples, including by enabling indigenous peoples participation in decisions and their free, prior, and informed consent. Cyclone Gabrielle exposed, yet again, the human rights dimensions of climate change-related disaster, from the right to life to the right to a decent home, and the obligations on business to respect and remedy breaches of human rights (think forestry slash ). In that same way, Cyclone Gabrielle also brings indigenous peoples rights, and Tiriti obligations, into sharp relief. Indigenous peoples have provided determined leadership not just for cuts to emissions, but for a Papatuanuku-driven approach to our environment. Without these efforts, the interests of fossil fuel companies and states would have prevailed over any real ambition to address climate change. Weve also seen the many ways that iwi, hapu and Maori organisations are exercising their self-determination and leadership for the benefit of all in the community. Such leadership warrants recognition and support from government. Indigenous peoples are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. They are also key to the global response due to centuries of knowledge and tikanga in caring for Papatuanuku, and because nearly a fifth of the carbon stored in the planets tropical forests sits within indigenous territories. Aotearoa New Zealand needs to live up to its international responsibilities to put indigenous peoples rights, Tiriti and human rights obligations, front and centre of its emergency response and its climate change laws and policies. We must recognise the disproportionate impacts of climate change and disasters on tangata whenua. Maori are more likely to live in places vulnerable to climate change therefore requiring either major investment to withstand the impact, or a managed retreat. Maori are also more likely to be poor, less healthy, uninsured, and either homeless or living in substandard housing. To make matters worse, reports show that in some locations more than 70% of homes that were damaged by flooding were occupied by Maori, and more than 60% were rentals. Marae were filled with silt and forestry slash. Indigenous peoples right to self-determination under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples supports tino rangatiratanga under te Tiriti. It requires states to support indigenous peoples own responses and recovery efforts to address climate change. The Covid-19 response showed that once resources were provided to iwi, hapu and community organisations, Maori soon reversed low vaccination rates. This is consistent with findings from more than 50 years of research into Indigenous peoples self-determination at Harvard University. It illustrates that indigenous peoples do better when we have the right to make decisions ourselves. Not waiting for the government to do it for us, Maori have now cleaned up marae, provided shelter, and provide support for their people to rebuild homes in the Cyclone Gabrielle recovery. Targeted funding to support Maori-led responses is welcomed by Te Kahui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission. Whether its restoring marae, deploying services through marae, or in setting up mental health-services . Indigenous peoples rights must be part of all future climate change and emergency response action, policy and law including its Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Bill. Maori also have a right to participate meaningfully in state laws on climate change mitigation, adaptation and response. Whanau and hapori are at the sharp end of social statistics, addressing inequities must be part of the cyclone response. The response of marae-based communities in many ways defined our national response to Cyclone Gabrielle. Manaakitanga, respect and care for others was placed above all else.