Intergenerational Indigenous accountability, and how to protect taonga as part of a just transition?

Matthew Scobie, The Times of a Just Transition
Project status

Ngāi Tahu is a large Māori kin group based in Te Waipounamu, the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. For Ngāi Tahu, accountability was a practice based on relationships and mutual obligations within and across generations, mediated through whakapapa (a structured genealogical relationship between all things) and mana (authority) (Scobie et al., 2020). This place-based, relational and intergenerational accountability has been referred to as grounded accountability (Scobie et al., 2020). Grounded accountability was disrupted by the dispossession of Ngāi Tahu lands, self-determining authority and resources through colonisation (Scobie et al., 2020). As a result of reparations for these grievances, Ngāi Tahu are reclaiming their taonga (resources), reconstructing their economies, and reasserting their self-determining authority. But all of these are now threatened by the climate crisis.

The concept of taonga (resources) is connected with rights and obligations, provides a link between past, present and future generations, encourages collective rights over individual property, and evokes awareness of cultural and spiritual attributes which have incomparable and immeasurable values (Craig et al., 2012). Craig et al. (2012), explore the value of taonga to inform asset valuation and conclude that the qualities associated with taonga are relevant to addressing current critical global issues. Ngāi Tahu are currently developing a futures strategy for 2050, a climate strategy (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 2018) and a framework for managing and preserving taonga (Scobie et al., 2021).

I propose to undertake a kaupapa Māori (Smith, 1999) action research case study to both contribute to, and better understand, the development of these strategies that are all expressions of Ngāi Tahu/Indigenous self-determination. Indigenous self-determination is necessary for any just transition. Specifically, I will contribute to the understanding and development of an accountability framework that is place-based, relational and intergenerational, so that Ngāi Tahu members can hold both Ngāi Tahu leadership and the Crown to account for their various obligations regarding Ngāi Tahu taonga. The research questions for this study are thus:

  • How is accountability understood and exercised around Ngāi Tahu taonga?
  • What are specific and concrete accountability mechanisms to ensure Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the Crown are accountable for their obligations regarding Ngāi Tahu taonga?

These questions capture the importance of bottom up, Ngāi Tahu understandings and practices of accountability, as well as the need for constructive relationships between Ngāi Tahu and the Crown. Both of these are required for a just transition. This study will contribute to understanding an Indigenous form of accountability; the possibilities for organising a just transition around taonga rather than assets; and developing more accountable and reciprocal relationships between Indigenous Peoples and settler-states. Research funds will be used to employ research assistants, preferably Ngāi Tahu or Māori students/postdoctoral researchers to collaborate, co-author, and build Māori research capacity.


Craig, R., Taonui, R., & Wild, S. (2012). The concept of taonga in Māori culture: insights for accounting. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 25(6), 1025-1047.

Scobie, M., Finau, G., and Hallenbeck, J. (2021). Land, land banks and land back: Accounting, social reproduction and Indigenous resurgence. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. In Press.

Scobie, M., Lee, B., and Smyth, S. (2020). Grounded accountability and Indigenous self-determination. Critical Perspectives on Accounting. In Press.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago Press.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. (2001). Ngāi Tahu 2025. Available at:

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. (2018). He Rautaki mō te Huringa o te Āhuarangi: Climate change strategy. Available at:

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