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  • Writer's picturemarti mcginnis

Kaitiakitanga: Guardianship To Rebalance Our Relationship To Nature

Kaitiakitanga is the process of recalibrating our relationship with the natural world to be in better balance.

A spread in my sketchbook dedicated to the concept of kaitiakitanga

Nature doesn't need us, but we sure do need nature!

Since early 2020, when the corona novel virus we now call COVID19 started impacting our lives many people have found themselves feeling quite out of balance. Some even literally. Not necessarily because they’re suffering from the virus, but mostly because it feels like the world is going through a time of transition and new realities are replacing old ones at an alarming speed that feels for all the world like the rug is being pulled out from under us. Especially in the United States, which don’t feel particularly united at the moment.

Some feel these times, this virus, are a long overdue reckoning with the natural world. Human practices in industry on a global scale have wreaked havoc on nature’s balances for at least the past century, or pretty much when the Industrial Revolution started dictating societal behavior. Are we beginning to pay a price for the impact we have all throughout nature’s designs? Have the ways we created to feed, house and clothe ourselves messed with systems in ways that are now causing virus to mutate into deadly pathogens our bodies can’t cope with? Is global warming causing intricately interconnected global weather patterns to recalibrate forming much stranger storms, droughts and other extreme conditions?

Has ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ come to a point where we finally can see the culpability of our own choices as they relate to the suffering of our fellow citizens?

There’s a lot going on. A lot of information with personal consequences swirling all around us. No wonder we’re feeling imbalanced, out of whack and blindsided. And deep in our hearts we know we have considerations we need to rethink in order to re-create the world we humans occupy if we and our children want to survive.

Kaitiakitanga is based on traditional Māori world views and includes the conservation, replenishment and sustainability of the environment. It is about safeguarding the future.

Traditional concepts of kaitiakitanga include a deep relationship between the spiritual realm, humans and the natural world. 

To understand the world, humans must understand relationships between themselves and the environment in which they live. People are part of the environment – not superior to it. The condition or health of the people and the environment are intricately related. The saying ‘Ko ahau te awa, ko te awa ko ahau’ (I am the river, the river is me) depicts the relat

ionship between people and the environment. Therefore, if a river is polluted, there is something not right with the people (and vice versa).

A kaitiaki is a guardian. This can be a person or group that cares for an area such as a lake or forest. 

This woman of Maori descent tells us about the concept of kaitiakitanga in every day practice from the time of her father to present day.

A book entitled Quest For Kaitiakitanga by Richard Bangs goes into much greater detail. You can find it on Amazon here.


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