Key concepts

As tangata whenua of Murihiku Southland, Ngāi Tahu share a strong connection to the natural environment. Environment Southland has recognised and embraced these key concepts, as they have significance and importance to Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku from Te Ao Māori.

Te Mana o Te Wai

A 2019 Kāhui Wai Māori report to the Minister for the Environment summarised important elements of the concept of Te Mana o Te Wai as follows:

“Te Mana o te Wai is the national korowai that frames and informs the trajectory for immediate and future policy development, and regional freshwater planning. It is a concept that encompasses the integrated and holistic health and well-being of waters as a continuum from the mountains to the sea.”

Te Mana o te Wai is about a hierarchy of obligations:

  • the first obligation is to protect the health and mauri of the water;
  • the second obligation is to provide for essential human health needs, such as drinking water;
  • the third obligation is to enable other consumptive use, provided that such use does not adversely impact the mauri of freshwater.

More recently, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 emphasised Te Mana o te Wai as the fundamental concept for management of national freshwater resources, reaffirming the importance of this hierarchy of obligations. Te Mana o te Wai is already a core part of the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan.

Te Mana o te Wai is a concept that refers to the fundamental importance of water and recognises that protecting the health of freshwater protects the health and well-being of the wider environment. It protects the mauri of the wai. Te Mana o te Wai is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and the community.


Mauri can be translated to mean ‘life force’ - the life principle or living essence contained in all things, animate and inanimate. The mauri of the water refers to the unique life force of a river or waterbody.

Ki uta ki tai

The phrase, ki uta ki tai, originates from Ngāi Tahu understanding of the environment and is now referenced in national direction for freshwater management and regional planning. Ki uta ki tai is commonly referred to as ‘mountains to the sea’ and is about standing on the land and knowing the effects, both positive and negative, in every direction. This ethos reflects the mātauranga (Māori knowledge) that all environmental elements are interconnected and must be managed as such. At a framework level, ki uta ki tai is similar to the RMA term ‘integrated management’ and, thus, aligns very closely with the concept of Integrated Catchment Management (ICM).


Hauora may be simply translated as meaning ‘health’, but equally can be considered to describe something as vigorous, resilient, or robust. This speaks to the idea of a hauora continuum, which implies varying levels of vigour, resilience or health, and the potential for hauora to change, for better or worse, over time. Just as humans can be considered to display varying degrees of health and resilience, so to can waterbodies be considered to display varying degrees of hauora, or healthy resilience.

Like healthy people, waterbodies with good levels of hauora can withstand a setback and recover quickly. Waterbodies with poor levels of hauora are more susceptible to setbacks, and less likely to rebound from such impacts.


Kaitiakitanga can be described as the obligation to nurture and care for the mauri of a taonga; an ethic of guardianship and protection. While the concept of kaitiakitanga is similar in meaning to stewardship or guardianship, in some ways it carries additional nuance and obligations as a result of the core principles of whanaungatanga (kinship) and utu (reciprocity in the pursuit of balance) which Māori consider to extend across the natural world.


Taonga might be translated as “that which is valued”; a treasured possession, including property, resources, and abstract concepts such as language, cultural knowledge, and relationships. Specific naturally occurring sources of food and materials within the Southland region are considered taonga by Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku.

Mahinga kai

Mahinga kai literally means ‘working the food’ but is more commonly translated as the gathering and harvesting of food and resources. Mahinga kai is central to the Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku way of life and sense of cultural identity. Where opportunities for traditional mahinga kai practices are compromised, the transfer of intergenerational knowledge, and thus maintenance of cultural identity, are both placed at risk.

For Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku this inability to pass on knowledge from generation to generation, and the associated risk to cultural identity is a key driver for pursing gains in the hauora of waterways and associated ecosystems within the space of a single generation. For Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku there is a strong sense of urgency in this respect.