In Aotearoa New Zealand, where biculturalism has emerged as a viable organising national ideology, the role of landscape is highly contested. The Indigenous Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand contend that their relationship with the land shapes how the cultural, spiritual, emotional, physical and social well-being of people and communities are expressed. Combining a dominant culture of New Zealanders of European descent with a highly urbanised society has resulted in the deterioration of the environment. With environmental pressures, a loss of the minority Māori cultural values concerning landscape has been noticed. However, there has been a growing demand towards a better understanding of culture and place-specific contexts affecting the health and well-being of populations in different environments.
While current ecological, social, and health models are still dominated by a Westernised approach that prioritises a medicalisation of health, many other cultures, such as Māori culture, embrace a more holistic approach to resource management, health and illness of our natural and built environments. This holistic approach tends to focus on the interconnectedness with landscape through mind, body and spirit, which is strongly evident in Indigenous cultures worldwide. The longstanding connection with land through forests, wetlands, rivers, coastal areas and mountains provides the Indigenous cultures with a sense of identity, belonging and well-being. This is cultivated by all individuals engaging in keeping the human-nature relationship in balance as part of their daily life and wellness, experiencing the natural environment like home and forming their knowledge and worldviews.
Research has shown that Indigenous people suffer significant health inequalities compared to dominant colonising cultures. Evidence indicates that these inequalities can be addressed by gaining a deeper understanding of the social and cultural determinants of health, applying Indigenous views of health and developing better definitions of the term well-being. This thesis draws on research exploring the relationship between Indigenous culture, the landscape and the connection with health and well-being. Using a case-study approach, it investigates the importance of the natural environment through the past, the present and the future; to better understand the importance of landscape and the therapeutic values imparted through different constructs pertaining to Māori models of health and well-being.
This study delivered information on health practices and well-being constructs through interviews and focus groups with pāhake (older adults), kaumātua (elders) and rongoā (traditional healers) practitioners, exploring the relationship between people and the natural environment. The findings supported that Māori conceptions of health and well-being are deeply associated with land as the basis of Māori identity. The research emphasised how the health of Māori might be improved by including a stronger connection to values pertaining to whakapapa (genealogy), mātauranga (knowledge), tikanga (customs), whakaora (healing), hinengaro (mind), wairua (spirit), tinana (body), tāngata (people), whenua (land), rākau (plants), whānau (family) that acknowledge the land as more than just physical or symbolic spaces for healing. Cultural and therapeutic environments should be seen as an essential element of our living fabric rather than a feature that seamlessly develops with time.
This research concluded that landscape is a foundational therapeutic aspect of well-being, expressing the forces that positively and negatively impact this relationship. Combining Indigenous knowledge with Western science and technology can make knowledge systems work for both Indigenous and Western people. A proposed framework is introduced about re-discovering Indigenous knowledge and its continued relevance to the way we live our lives. Through understanding Māori cultural and therapeutic values, key concepts can be integrated into and produce meaningful therapeutic environments. All three concepts, Indigenous culture, health and well-being, and landscape, must be interconnected and balanced to reduce Māori health inequalities and benefit the lands and all people of Aotearoa New Zealand.