Safeguarding seeds and Maori intellectual property through partnership

Sue Scheele


The Nagoya Protocol is a recent binding international instrument that articulates the need to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples regarding their biological resources and cultural knowledge and strengthens the mechanisms to do so. New Zealand has not signed this protocol because of the overriding importance of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s domestic affairs, and the need to ensure that government options are not limited concerning the development of domestic policy on access to biological resources. In particular, policy makers and legislators are waiting for the government response to a 2011 Waitangi Tribunal report (Ko Aotearoa Tēnei) on a far-reaching and complex claim (WAI 262) concerning the place of Māori traditional knowledge, culture and identity in contemporary New Zealand law and government policies and practice. Especially pertinent to this paper is the report’s section on Māori rights relating to biological and genetic resources. In accordance with the recommendation within Ko Aotearoa Tēnei, the principle of partnership, built on the explicit Treaty premise of Crown and Māori as formal equals, is presented here as the overarching framework and mechanism by which government agencies and Māori can work together to safeguard such resources. Core concepts and values are elucidated that underpin the Māori relationship to indigenous flora and fauna and are integral to the protection of cultural knowledge of seeds and plants. Examples are given of plant species regarded as taonga (treasures) and how they are conserved, and a case study is presented of institutional stewardship of harakeke (New Zealand flax) weaving varieties. Seed bank facilities are also evaluated regarding their incorporation of Māori values and rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.

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