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Conceptualizing indigenous human–animal relationships in Aotearoa New Zealand: An ethical perspective

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posted on 2023-05-03, 22:19 authored by Jordan Woodhouse, Anna Carr, Nicola Liebergreen, Lynley Anderson, Ngaio Beausoleil, Gosia Zobel, Mike King
This article considers the complexity and diversity of ethical concepts and beliefs held by Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand (hereafter New Zealand), relating to animals. A combination of interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with individuals who identify as Māori and were working with wildlife, primarily in an eco-tourism and conservation context. Two main themes emerged from the data: ethical concepts relating to the environment, and concepts relating to the spiritual relationships between people, animals and the environment. These findings highlight that the connections between humans and animals through a Māori lens are nuanced in ways not typically accounted for in Western philosophy. This is of particular importance because of the extent to which standard Western thought is embodied in law and policy related to human treatment of animals and the environment. In New Zealand, relationships and partnerships are informed by Te Tiriti ō Waitangi, one of New Zealand’s founding documents. Where these partnerships include activities and environments involving human–animal interaction, policy and legislation should account for Māori knowledge, and diverse of thought among different hapū (tribal groups). We conclude by exploring ways of including Māori ethical concepts around animals in general, and wild animals in particular, in law and policy, providing a case study relevant to other bicultural or multicultural societies.


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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



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Woodhouse, J., Carr, A., Liebergreen, N., Anderson, L., Beausoleil, N. J., Zobel, G., & King, M. (2021). Conceptualizing indigenous human–animal relationships in Aotearoa New Zealand: An ethical perspective. Animals, 11(10), 2899.

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