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Kaitiakitanga, often translated simplistically and conveniently as ‘guardianship’ or ‘stewardship’ has in practice been intensely political - an urgent fight to stop the destruction and despoliation of sacred places and traditional food gathering sites.. Our Marsden-funded project on kaitiakitanga over harbours records the vision, strategy and hard work of Māori activists in protecting Aotearoa’s lands and waters, in the hope that we can learn from this history to clear the space in our legal and policy environment for kaitiakitanga, in its fullness, to be freely exercised. This paper journeys to four harbours – Kāwhia, Aotea, Manukau and Whāngārei - and through time, showing how kaitiaki have fought to protect and regain their authority to care for their harbours in the face of ongoing colonialism.
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