TT: Reserves vs Reservations

This week I’m challenging Alan…  Looking for something tranquil?  The Wednesday Wandering invites you to stroll with me in the tangled mass that is my garden.

JANE: Now, even though you’ve been very clear, I must admit, other things I’ve read about New Zealand don’t quite fit the picture you’ve given me.   I recently listened to a Ngaio Marsh novel, Colour Scheme.  It’s set during WWII in New Zealand.

Maori Myths and Weapons

Maori Myths and Weapons

There have been several references to “native reserves” with the implication (to my American ears) that these are lands upon which (or within the borders thereof) the Maori run the show or administer it or something.

This doesn’t quite fit with what you said last time.   Or at least my understanding thereof, which was that the Maori had no lands that were their own, except as individual landowners might own land.

Can you clarify?

ALAN: I really don’t know what Ngaio Marsh means by “native reserves.”  We simply don’t have reservations in the sense that you have described them. So I’m very puzzled as to what she might mean. Can you provide some context for me?

JANE: Okay, the area involved is Rangi Peak.  I’m not sure if this is a real place or one invented for the book.

ALAN: Yes, it really exists. Its Maori name is Te Peke o te Rangi Hekeiho and it’s 159 metres tall. Interestingly, it has never been climbed, so nobody knows what exciting things may lurk at the top…

JANE:  That’s neat.  Okay, in the novel, Rangi Peak is referred to as having been a Maori burial ground, apparently an extinct volcano into which they placed their dead.

When some of the pakeha characters go into the reserve, one notices a sign indicating that “curios” – what I think my archeologically-minded household would refer to as “artifacts” – cannot be removed from the area.

In the novel, there’s a really annoying man who wants to turn the area into a second Rotorua-like tourist attraction. He wants to do tours (with Maori guides if possible) of these sacred areas.  Several times, people (both Maori and pakeha) say “but it’s a native reserve…” The implication being that this man is pushing some sort of boundary.

Does that help?

ALAN: Ah! That makes a lot more sense. There are many areas that are sacred to Maori and which are regarded as reserves in the same way that a nature reserve is regarded as a reserve. The purpose, in the case of the Maori, is to guard and protect something that has enormous spiritual value to them. In some cases, for very sacred areas, general access is restricted or forbidden because of “tapu”, and the Maori consider themselves to be the place’s spiritual guardians.

JANE: Tapu?  Is that the same as taboo?

ALAN: Well, it’s very similar. In English, “taboo” simply means “forbidden” and I always assumed that tapu meant the same thing. Certainly tapu things can be forbidden. But when I started looking more closely at it, I discovered that there is rather more to it than that – it is closely related to the idea of mana (respect, authority, charisma) and tapu can be thought of as mana associated with the gods.

JANE: Great!  That makes it a lot more clear.  Please, go on…

ALAN: Everything in existence has an intrinsic tapu derived directly from the gods. Elaborate rules of behaviour maintain the sanctity of tapu. Disregarding the rules of tapu insults the mana of the gods and can lead to disaster, demonic possession or death.

Areas of spiritual significance, burial grounds, ceremonial sites, carved houses, and waka (canoes) all have their own tapu and, depending on the degree, may be sacrosanct and best avoided or at the very least approached with respect and caution.

JANE: I’m with you.  Can you give an example?

ALAN: A good example would be the popular tourist destination of Cape Reinga. It is the point from where spirits of the dead leave for their journey back to the ancestral homeland. It is a hauntingly beautiful and very spiritual place and Maori ask that respect for tapu be shown by all visitors.

Fresh water has the power to neutralise tapu to levels that are no longer dangerous to people and spiritual ceremonies will often involve sprinkling water over people, objects and the land.

JANE: I think I now understand what Ngaio Marsh meant.  Rangi Peak is not land owned by the Maori in the way reservation land here is owned by various tribes.  However, Maori traditions are respected to the point that, for some entrepreneur to get a business going, he’d need to have the cooperation of the locals.  That explains why the character in Marsh’s novel is busy courting the younger – presumably less conservative – members of the local Maori community.  Even so, he’s definitely pushing boundaries – of respect, if not of law.

ALAN: That’s exactly right. The cooperation of the local Maori is absolutely vital and their wishes are always respected. And sometimes working closely with the local iwi (tribes) can be very productive for everybody involved.

Here’s a lovely story that illustrates that. In a forest in the far north, there is a giant kauri tree known as Tane Mahuta – the largest tree in the country. In Maori mythology, Tane is the son of the sky father and the earth mother and the birds and trees of the forest are regarded as Tane’s children for whom he is responsible. So Tane Mahuta, the tree, is obviously very close to the gods themselves; perhaps even a manifestation of the god.

During a drought in 2013, 10,000 litres of water were diverted from a nearby stream to Tane Mahuta, which (who?) was showing signs of dehydration…

Everybody wins.

JANE: I have to ask…  Did this influx of fresh water have the side effect of reducing the tapu of Tana Mahuta?

ALAN: No, not at all. That would require a proper ceremony conducted by a tohunga (a wise man, or priest). The rehydration of Tane Mahuta was not ceremonial, it was simply a pragmatic act conducted by the Department of Conservation (DOC) with the full cooperation of the local iwi, of course.

JANE:  That’s a relief.  It would be a shame to save the tree but reduce its tapu.

What happens when there is an area that the Maori deem sacred or important, that isn’t within a designated “native reserve”?

ALAN: I’m not sure there’s any such thing. If there is an area that Maori deem sacred or important, then by definition it is a “native reserve.” The only exception might be land about which nothing is known but which later proves to be significant because of archeological evidence. In such cases, the land will always be purified in a ceremony conducted by a tohunga. What happens after that is moot.

How does it work in the United States?

JANE: First, I need to draw a few lines.  Within the United States, land ownership becomes complex.  There is Federal land (some of this is called BLM land, because it is administered by the Bureau of Land Management).  There is state land.  Counties, cities, or towns may also own land.  Finally, there is privately owned land.

ALAN: We don’t have a federal system, so it’s much simpler here. Land may be owned privately or by the government. Cities and towns may own land which contains infrastructure such as roads, and amenities such as parks.

JANE: Yes.  That is much simpler.  It’s not nearly as simple here.  If a location important to one of the tribes is on Federal land, then it can be designated a “culturally significant property.”  Interestingly, these may include shrines, burial areas, and natural resources, including plants, minerals, even clay.  This gives the area protection from development.

ALAN: We have similar designations for similar reasons and purposes.

JANE: I can’t speak for the other forty-nine states but, in New Mexico, the guidelines for designating a culturally significant property parallel Federal guidelines.

However, if the land is privately owned, cultural resources are unprotected.  Sometimes social pressure can be brought to bear.  I know of at least one instance where a group was speaking to some real estate developers about preserving a traditional shrine within land that was to be turned into a residential subdivision.

For this reason, organizations like The Archeological Conservancy have become important.  This is a private, non-government foundation that buys land containing significant archeological sites with the promise that they will not be developed.  Many times land owners donate such areas or sell at a reduced price.

ALAN:  We don’t have any organisations that would buy such land, though the same social pressures can be applied. Certainly all development would stop while the site was investigated. But eventually development would continue.

JANE: I guess I’m going into this is such detail because, since Jim’s an archeologist, we run into misunderstandings all the time.  One of the most common is that, if land contains artifacts or ruins, it’s automatically protected from use or development.  In fact, this is far from true.  One of the most important parts of Jim’s job is preserving the information in sites before they are either destroyed or buried.

ALAN: I find myself nodding at every point you make. We may organise things a little differently but I think we both get to the same place in the end.

JANE: That’s a relief!  I’m sure some of our readers will have questions, so I’d like to open the discussion to them.  Meanwhile, you’re at a significant point in your life.  I’d love to talk about how that’s going next time.


8 Responses to “TT: Reserves vs Reservations”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    My (goofy) understanding is that if mana is spiritual power, a tapu is something like a “high voltage” sign. Break the tapu, and you experience the negative consequences of the mana, as well as the retribution of the ariki (chief) who imposed the tapu. It’s part of the Polynesian governance system. Actions and areas would be forbidden to groups of people for set periods. In Hawaii, the missionaries overthrew the kapu (same word) system by getting the queen to eat with male members of her family, since one long-standing kapu was that the sexes above childhood were to eat apart. When the queen didn’t die from eating with the menfolk, the whole system started to fall apart, to the missionaries’ advantage.

    Still, some kapus seem to be respected. For example, there’s the Honopu Valley on the Na Pali coast of Kauai, where Kauai’s chiefs are buried. No one lives there, and as I recall, there’s a big “Keep Out” sign on the beach, although people do walk in, and Hollywood films there occasionally. However, I’m not at all sure who owns that particular land. It’s not part of a reservation.

  2. Louis Robinson Says:

    That idea that land containing archaeological remains is automatically protected is very widespread – I’ve even seen it stated as fact that it will be expropriated if word ever gets out. I wonder if that is state law in some regions? [Those holding the belief are generally from that school that holds that The Government is out to grab everything, and will use any excuse to take it from you] Even those with a more realistic appreciation of the law will often just ignore anything that comes to light, simply because proper evaluation would delay their plans by a few weeks. As everyone knows, time is money…

    One of the most fascinating instances of preservation I’ve ever run into was in the Old City of Jerusalem: it’s just about impossible to stick a spade in the ground in Israel without hitting _something_, and in a place like Jerusalem it will be a lot of something. So every building permit goes through the municipal archaeologist, who schedules the rescue work and lets you know how much delay to allow for, and under what conditions it may be extended. [Somewhere like the Old City, of course, the only time you _can_ dig is when a new building is going up] In this case, a chap who had bought a property in the Jewish Quarter to build a house found his basement going down some 4000 years [and something over 40 feet]. He was so interested in what was being found that in the end he had the house redesigned so that the pit could be left open, with the house built above it. Then he put in a staircase, a few signs and a gate, and left it open for the public during daylight! There are limits to what you can pick out with the untrained eye, of course, but it was still a wonderful place – the only one I know of where you could go down all the way to the first occupation layer.

    • Jim Says:

      Nice anecdote, Louis. There is a similar situation in downtown Santa Fe, though the period of occupation is not nearly as long–only around 1100 or so years. You don’t seem to be able to dig anywhere downtown without hitting something. When they were building a new civic center a few years ago, an extensive Pueblo village was found to have originally occupied the site, followed by Fort Marcy during the American period. Remains from both periods of occupation were common and had to be excavated before construction could begin.

      I recently finished up excavations at a hotel site in downtown Santa Fe for Drury Southwest. That location wasn’t occupied until fairly late in Santa Fe’s history, because it was the site of a swamp. Draining began during the Spanish occupation, so we found materials dating to the years just after Santa Fe’s reconquest following the Pueblo Revolt (early 1700s) as well as extensive foundations from a complex of buildings constructed by the SIster’s of Charity. We even had some of the foundations for Archibishop Lamy’s first rectory!

      My excavations were conducted under city ordinances, but I have to say that the client was excellent and went over and above what the ordinance required for funding.

    • janelindskold Says:

      The information about Jerusalem is fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    Louis, there’s a tricky point here: with some archeological remains (and I’m thinking in California), you do have to figure out whether they matter or not, and if you’re going to impact something important, you either have to avoid the impact or mitigate it. Something important, in this case, can be graves, a sacred site, or something similar. Minor things include debris of various sorts, old camp or campfire remains, and similar. In all cases, this doesn’t affect ownership of the land, only what can be done atop the archeological remains.

    It’s similar to the law for endangered plants. If they’re growing naturally on a piece of property, you can’t legally destroy them unless you have no other choice. Ideally, you want to protect them, move them (which typically kills them), plant the same species somewhere safe, or pay to protect another population. However, if you buy an endangered plant and plant it, you can do what you want. Endangered plants “in captivity” aren’t covered by the law.

    The problem seems to be for people who think that the only reason to own land is so that they can do whatever they want with it. This vision of ownership is an all-or-nothing dichotomy. This is, of course, an absurd concept, if only because your neighbors will have a say in what you do with your land whether you want them to or not. California’s a bit more extreme than most states, but the environmental laws here basically boil down to a concept you could teach a three year-old: if you know you’re going to cause an environmental impact, you’ve either got to avoid the impact, fix it somehow, or convince the governing authority that the gain from the project is worth the environmental damage. Some developers really do act like three year-olds trying to get their way without having to pay the consequences, and they’re willing to spend years to decades trying to get their way. It’s a bizarre mindset from my point of view, but it exists.

    • Jim Says:

      You are right about how tricky it is to deal with archaeological remains. I can speak for here in New Mexico, where besides Federal regulations (which cover any undertakings on federal land, with federal funding, or under federal licensing), there are also state and local laws and regulations that need to be considered. I won’t go into detail, lest I bore everyone. However, when archaeological regulations kick in, any cultural remains involved are usually assessed using several criteria, to determine whether they are worth excavating or avoiding. Excavation is usually the chosen solution because it can be cheaper than altering the plans for a project.

    • Heteromeles Says:

      I won’t bore everyone too much either, except to point out that one of the huge mistakes developers make is that they talk to their design team before they talk to the environmental and archeological consultants. Then the consultants are stuck with the unenviable task of telling the developer what the problems with the site are *after* he’s created a blueprint for what he wants the place to be, which creates a lot of conflict and potentially wastes a lot of money. The smarter developers, and there are a very few, do the surveys first, find out where the problem areas are, and avoid them in the design. This makes for some really good designs (after all, constraints often bring out creativity in a way that a blank slate never will), and it makes for a lot less environmental conflict.

      I just wish there was a way to tell more people about this…

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        Yep. I’ve heard of cases where the difficulties were made the centrepiece of the development – usually garnering huge kudos for the developer instead of the customary moaning and groaning. And, not coincidentally, raising the final value more than enough to compensate them for doing it 🙂

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