The environmental injustices of settler colonialism: M. Parsons, K. Fisher, ‘Decolonising Flooding and Risk Management: Indigenous Peoples, Settler Colonialism, and Memories of Environmental Injustices’, Sustainability, 14, 2022


Abstract: This paper examines the history of settler-colonialism and how settler-colonial-led policies and projects to remake the landscapes and waterscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand resulted in the production of Indigenous environmental injustices. Underpinned by theorising on ecological justice and decolonisation, we draw on archival sources and oral histories of Maori and Pakeha (European) individuals living in a single river catchment—the Waipa River—to trace how actions to remove native vegetation, drain wetlands, introduce exotic biota, and re-engineer waterways contributed to intensifying incidence of floods. While Pakeha settlers interpreted environmental transformation as inherently positive, Indigenous Maori perceived it as profoundly negative, a form of ecological dispossession. We demonstrate that while Pakeha narrated floods as disaster events, Maori viewed colonisation as the true disaster, with floods and fires merely products of settlers’ mistreatment of the environment. Moreover, the colonial government’s efforts to control floods resulted in Maori being further alienated from and losing access to their rohe (ancestral lands and waters) and witnessing the destruction of their taonga (treasures including forests, wetlands, and sacred sites). For Maori of the Waipa catchment, flood risk management regimes were far more destructive (socially, economically and spiritually) than flood events.

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