In this newsletter we articulate some of the principles, practices, achievements and questions surrounding Indigenous impact assessment (Cultural Impact Assessment). We build on the strengthening international impetus in impact assessment practice to develop further integrity, respect and reciprocity in relationships with Indigenous groups.
To date, there has been little collective discussion as to what it actually means (or could mean) to practice Indigenous impact assessment in Aotearoa New Zealand. Furthermore, there has been little dialogue about the potential for non-Indigenous decision-making bodies to enhance the opportunity for Indigenous impact assessment based on Indigenous territorial rights and self-determination. So here we open up that conversation and consider the implications for developing a decolonising agenda in impact assessment. Commentaries from Indigenous contributors to impact assessment in Aotearoa New Zealand follow – contributors writing of their experience as manawhenua, CIA practitioner, commissioner, and academic.
The commentaries begin with an overview piece by Dyanna Jolly that was prepared as a prompt for all contributors. It was sent to each writer as a scene-setter for them; encouraging each to reflect on the extent to which Cultural Impact Assessment is delivering processes and outcomes consistent with Māori aspirations.
Then, the first response is fromJuliane Chetham who raises the critical risk of Māori aspirations (and rights) being set aside completely in our conventional impact assessment process. A process that gives primacy to negotiation and compromise (mitigation).
Building on this conundrum, Raewyn Solomon questions the common situation where the CIA writer gives expert evidence as part of the applicant team and hence can inherently contradict a hapū position if the hapū submits in opposition to the proposal. CIA evidence and iwi/hapū contributions need to work together with consistency in order to achieve Māori visions for the future.
Jade Wikaira then draws our attention to the very real need for capacity building in the non-Indigenous community of impact assessment practitioners. Understanding the importance of authentic relationships with hapū, valuing mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori, and gaining competence with tikanga and kawa are all important for arriving at genuine solutions.
As James Whetu points out, that also means recognising that current use of impact assessment in a western planning framework does not enable kaitiaki to articulate their broader perspectives on impact nor their associated aspirations in a comprehensive way. Impact assessment is a constraining, compartmentalising device in the way practitioners and decision makers use it in this country.
Tē Kīpa Kēpa Brian Morgan further develops on such notions, seeking improved ways of sharing power and decision making in our efforts to shift towards greater sustainability.
Similarly, Hirini Matungaregards the narrowing effect of CIA as particularly challenging for Maori communities; a challenge amplified by the reactive, rather than proactive, position in which it places iwi/hapū. Linking back into Juliane Chetham’s concerns, Hirini suggests that CIAs risk becoming mechanisms for saying ‘yes’ to development. As a way forward, he argues for a broader impact assessment framework that takes a comprehensive holistic account of change and futures (interconnecting environmental, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, spiritual, and Indigenous dimensions) and legitimates Indigenous groups as practitioners, resource developers and decision makers.
Michelle Thompson-Fawcett (Ngāti Whātua) is Professor in Te Iho Whenua|Geography, Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtago/Otago University. She has 35 years’ experience in planning and environmental management, both in practice and academia. Michelle’s research focusses on power relations and practices of inclusion/exclusion and self-determination in local planning. Her projects with Māori communities investigate processes of urban design, cultural landscape management, cultural impact assessment and Indigenous resource management/planning.
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