This article explores the Indigenous principle of kaitiakitanga as it relates to Māori agrifood practices. Our discussion is based on interviews with a small cross-section of Māori in the agrifood sector whose practices are informed by a long-standing appreciation of the interconnected realities of lands, food, people and waterways. We consider how the shared Kaupapa Māori principles underpinning these food practices form part of a wider Kaupapa Māori land, water and food systems approach which we call “Kai Ora”.
Interviews with 22 kaitiaki (environmental guardians) from 14 tribes spread throughout the North Island of New Zealand revealed a common concern that the abundance and diversity of sea foods have declined along much of the coastline over the past 30–50 years. While Western conservationists have tended to emphasise ecological impacts, kaitiaki are concerned at both ecological and cultural consequences of the losses.
The paper argues that by the time of European contact southern Māori had developed a regime of sustainable practices for the management of natural resources. Some of these practices are described. As traditional society in the south is located in a rather different cultural milieu than that occupied by Māori who lived in areas where kūmera harvests were reliable, an attempt is made to position southern Ngāi Tahu in relation to the dominant anthropological paradigms.