Indigenous voices on sustainability take global platform

Māori philosopher Associate Professor Krushil Watene has been appointed to the UN Human Development Advisory Board.

Māori philosopher Associate Professor Krushil Watene has just been appointed to the Advisory Board of the 2020 United Nations Human Development Report alongside some of the world’s leading economists and humanitarian thinkers.

Dr Watene, Ngāti Manu, Te Hikutu, Ngāti Whātua o Orākei, Tonga, says she is excited about the appointment and sees her role will focus on; “bringing the work of indigenous communities globally to bear on the transformation and future of the reports. It’s an opportunity to highlight the significance of indigenous philosophies and practices.”

Dr Watene says the voices and values of Indigenous peoples have much to contribute in finding solutions to environmental catastrophe – and we can no longer afford to overlook and ignore them. 

This week she is coordinating a major international conference that puts Indigenous knowledge and perspectives at the centre of global discussions on how we tackle the urgent issue of climate change impacts and environmental degradation.

The conference, New Horizons: Sustainability and Justice, runs from June 30 to July 2, and will take place online, in response to COVID-19 travel restrictions. It is the annual gathering of the Human Development and Capability Association, founded by welfare economist Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and American philosophy professor Martha Nussbaum. It is being hosted in Australasia for the first time, by Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

The event brings together some of the world’s leading scholars, practitioners, and policymakers in development and humanitarian issues. These include keynote speakers Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, professor of International Affairs and director of Julien J. Studley Graduate Programs in International Affairs at The New School in New York, and Chilean economist Professor José Gabriel Palma. His work on inequality has been influential in new United Nations objectives for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

A global conference at Massey brings together diverse voices on sustainable development grounded in Indigenous knowledge.

Solutions grounded in indigenous knowledge and values

Dr Watene, based at Massey’s Albany campus in the School of Humanities, says Indigenous philosophies are highly relevant to sustainable and equitable development. “They have been playing an increasingly prominent role in advancing social, economic, environmental, and cultural development around the world.”

In this domain, she is involved in a National Science Challenge on “new models of collective responsibility” to strengthen connections between land, people and water; a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment endeavour that is pioneering marae-based involvement in creating a low-carbon future; and a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship on intergenerational justice.

Within and beyond the Pacific region, there are calls for fresh approaches to sustainable development grounded in Indigenous philosophies, says Dr Watene, who will be collaborating with international policy-makers in her new appointment on the UN board, including bestselling author Thomas Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics and Co-Director, World Inequality Lab, France.

Conference aims to chart new course for development

The conference, she believes, is an opportunity to chart a new course for development, and to “highlight the urgency and centrality of environmental concerns for tackling poverty, the value of diverse knowledges, and the need for local and global solutions. We can use this momentum to ensure that indigenous people’s knowledge and values are given effect in policy and law.”

In Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori philosophies can ground the naming of Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui river) and Te Urewera (previously a national park) as legal entities with rights, she notes. “Similarly, Kaupapa Māori Theory has helped to pioneer a platform for Indigenous knowledges globally, providing space to reimagine the role of communities in research and development. Beyond Aotearoa New Zealand, concepts such as ‘aloha ‘āina’ (Hawai’ian for ‘love of the land’), ‘minobimaatisiiwin’ (Canadian native language of Anishinaabe, for ‘the good life’), and ‘sumaq kawsay’ (Peruvian indigenous language of Quechua, for ‘good living’) are transforming environmental thinking.” 

Other speakers at this week’s conference include: 

  • Pedro Conceição, director of the Human Development Report Office and lead author of the Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme
  • Kate Raworth, self-described “renegade economist” and author of the internationally-acclaimed Doughnut Economics, based on her economic model that balances essential human needs and planetary boundaries.
  • Dr Arunabha Ghosh, founder-CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, one of South Asia's leading policy research institutions and among the world’s best climate think-tanks
  • Jay Drydyk, professor of philosophy (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), and Human Development and Capability president-elect  

New Zealand participants include acclaimed critical Indigenous scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith (author of Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples); Te Pūnaha Matatini (data modellers), and a number of speakers and participants from Massey, including a roundtable discussion on the recently published book A Seat at the Table on New Zealand’s role in the United Nations Security Council, editor by Dr Negar Partow and published by Massey University Press.

Dr Watene is working with a team from Massey’s philosophy programme and the Albany Māori Advisory group to coordinate the conference from the Manawatū campus, with computer science students providing tech support.

The online format includes a Māori welcome – the conference will open with karakia and mihi by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori team at Albany, and close with a karakia. Massey's Toro Mai te reo app will be promoted to conference attendees.

The event is supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi, Marsden Fund, Taylor & Francis (academic publishers), Te Pūnaha Matatini, Tourism NZ, and the United Nations’ Human Development Report Office. 

For more information on the conference and keynote speakers, click here

UN Development Report Advisory Board: 

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