Defending Starlight as a Cultural Resource: the use of environmental legislation in Aotearoa/New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
In 2012, a large area within the Mackenzie District of Te Waipounamu/South Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand was designated as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve (AMIDSR). While lighting restrictions within the AMIDSR promise to protect starlight visibility in that location for the foreseeable future, this thesis considers instruments provided by the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) that could be applied in protection of starlight as a natural resource of cultural significance to Māori. The celestial realm is a vital element of Māori cosmology. Tātai aroraki/Māori astronomy was responsible for the Polynesian discovery and settlement of this nation. Traditionally the moon and stars also played a role in mahika kai/food gathering and other cultural practices. Tātai aroraki is a body of knowledge that was developed through continued observation and use of the natural resource of starlight, and both the knowledge and the natural resource itself are embedded within the whole mahika kai resource chain. Interviews with local kaumātua/elders and a Māori astrophysicist were conducted to determine whether tātai aroraki is still practiced and important to contemporary Kāi Tahu, an iwi/tribe with close ties to the Mackenzie District. Results confirmed that despite the eroding effects that colonisation, urbanisation and new technologies have had on traditional environmental knowledge in general, remnants of tātai arorangi remain and are still used by a few Kāi Tahu individuals and families. For many Māori, their cultural identity is closely linked to traditional knowledge and practices, a form of cultural capital. A strong cultural identity is an important element of cultural wellbeing. Applying the RMA to the protection of starlight from light pollution would protect a resource important for mahika kai and therefore indirectly enhance the potential for Kāi Tahu to provide for their cultural wellbeing. As the RMA is a national statute this has implications for iwi in other regions of Aotearoa who have similar astronomical traditions. This thesis extends previous research on the AMIDSR within a growing body of scholarship on starlight protection. It also makes a contribution to RMA scholarship and Actor-Network Theory literature on the natural environment by including the celestial realm within resource networks.