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Māori perspectives on New Zealand’s space sector – Expert Reaction

Public consultation on New Zealand’s Aerospace Strategy and Space Policy Review will close today, the 31st of October. 

The consultation documents highlight the need to engage with Māori on New Zealand’s space activities and engagements, though some commentators argue that the consultation has been too rushed for Māori to have meaningful input. 

The SMC asked Māori legal scholars and space scientists to comment on issues within New Zealand’s space sector that may be of concern for tangata whenua.

Dr Pauline Harris (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Rakaipaka, Ngāti Kahungunu) Associate Professor, Te Putahi a Toi: School of Maori Knowledge, Massey University; Chairperson, Society for Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions; Deputy Director Māori, MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, comments

“Māori are involved in many areas of space, from mātauranga Māori, to astrophysics to space medicine. The potential for Māori to grow and engage in the aerospace sector needs to align with the educational, economic and cultural aspirations of Māori. Māori have had a close relationship with space for millennia predating our arrival to Aotearoa. Our relationship with the sun, moon and stars through Māori astronomy, maramataka and now with the establishment of Matariki shows the continual relationship Māori have had with space and the environment. And of course, our development of waka technology and sailing techniques that enabled us to travel to Aotearoa, shows the remarkable innovation that enabled these long distant journeys.

“In these great endeavours, Māori inherently recognise that Space is a taonga and the atmosphere is a taonga and hence all that we do in aerospace is viewed through the lens of respect to the atua within these realms. Respect, responsibility and reciprocity are fundamental principles that are associated with how we conduct our selves in these “spaces”.

“Thus moving forward, how do we ensure that as the aerospace sector grows and policies are developed, all of Aotearoa can contribute to a growing space industry? Māori need to be at the decision make table, honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to ensure that our interests, participation, aspiration, viewpoints, ethics and values all are incorporated. It is also important that when we talk about these concepts and approaches, they are properly understood as we develop a world class aerospace industry.

“For many Māori, we would like to see Māori growing in the industry through education programmes and opportunities, funding allocation specifically to build capacity and capability of researchers, engineers and technologists, and to support entrepreneurs, innovators and businesses to develop new concepts and ideas.

“In order to achieve these outcomes Māori need to be at the decision making table, in the conversations to help develop policy, to help shape the values, guidelines and investment in the sector. For the aerospace strategy and space policy review, discussions with Māori have begun and it has been recognised that more work needs to be done to better understand the economic aims and aspirations of Māori, and most importantly Māori rights and interests in space.

“Many Māori want to be involved in the aerospace sector and we already are, from involvement with Rocket Lab in Māhia to Project Tāwhaki in the South. But as we have seen, the process of engagement is far from perfect. Although many Māori are interested in being part of this space, how we are involved, and how the sector should be supported and developed, need to be closely considered, with Māori at the table throughout all stages. This will ensure full participation of Māori in the sector and will ensure also that we conduct ourselves respectively and honour the taonga that is space and our atmosphere.”

No conflict of interest declared. 

Mr. William Grant, Pūkenga Lecturer Faculty of Law, University of Canterbury, comments:

“Aotearoa New Zealand is increasingly active in the space sector. As an attractive launch site and one of the top four most active countries in the space arena, we have the opportunity to influence the future development and use of outer space.

“However, the breakneck speed in which technologies and the commercialisation of outer space is occurring has resulted in several issues that could benefit from greater policy discussion and mana whenua input. Our increasing presence in outer space brings into greater focus concerns around the peaceful use of outer space, mineral extraction and so on. We also need to be conscious of how our presence in outer space influences how we engage with the night sky from earth, and any negative impacts that may disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples.

“One such issue that is becoming more apparent is that of light pollution, or the increase in the ambient glow of the night sky. Satellites and especially now mega-constellations are contributing to the light barrier between earth and celestial bodies.

“Anthropogenic-induced nightglow is also proving harmful to human health and ecological systems. Increased skyglow at night has been linked to an increase in insomnia, depression and even cancer. It has also been linked to a shift in the natural cycles of animals, migratory patterns and behaviours, the natural colours of species, navigation, reproduction and so on. These negative impacts further strengthen the argument that light really is a 21st century pollutant that needs to be regulated.

“While the increase in night glow is an issue that has far-reaching impacts, it will disproportionately impact indigenous peoples’ access to the night sky.

“For Māori, we are in a period of reclamation. Colonisation has resulted in the degradation and subjugation of our mātauranga and histories – including our relationship with celestial bodies. We now have the opportunity to rebuild and redevelop our relationship with the night sky – however, owing to the international, national and local regulatory gaps surrounding outer space and light pollution, this opportunity is at risk of being lost to us. We are at risk of future generations losing access to an important repository of knowledge.

“We have made huge advancements in tino rangatiratanga at the national level, Matariki for example. But what of this advancement when we can no longer see Puaka rising? We cannot observe Marariki and her children? Does this create a stronger obligation on the Crown to protect access to the night sky? It is imperative there is meaningful partnership with Māori in the drafting of Aotearoa | New Zealand’s space policy and legislation as well as a strong Māori presence on any delegations or representations on international initiatives on outer space kaupapa so that we may bring light (or darkness, for that matter) to issues such as this.”

No conflict of interest.