Growing up in New Zealand, we were taught quite early that as Europeans, New Zealand was not our land. It had been stolen by our evil ancestors from the innocent and nature-loving Maori who had cultivated and lived in harmony with New Zealand’s environment for centuries.
This is a lie.
Maori were in fact not as nature loving as we have been led to believe. Below is a snapshot of the changes in forest cover over the centuries, courtesy of the Kiwi Conservation Club:
Polynesians arrived in New Zealand in the late 13th century. It is astonishing to see how much of our forests they were able to destroy in less than 500 years. For a people with no machinery - indeed with little more than stone axes - they cleared a large chunk of our country of its beautiful forest in the time that they had.
This is not to overlook the fact that European settlers themselves caused massive amounts of damage to New Zealand’s forests. Unquestionably, our forefathers chopped down large swathes of forest to build farms and cities.
That being said, what if Maori had had access to technology like sawmills in the early stages of their settlement? Would there have been any forests at all in New Zealand by the time the Europeans discovered the islands? Given their record, it's doubtful.
All throughout Maori history in New Zealand we see a glaring lack of self-control in terms of environmental and resource matters. For example, the moa was hunted to complete extinction by Maori long before Europeans ever arrived. This had catastrophic impacts on New Zealand's unique ecosystem. New Zealand’s most beautiful native bird - the legendary Haast’s eagle - was deprived of its prey and eventually itself wiped out by Maori hunters.
Our country's nature reserves and preservation initiatives were established by European New Zealanders once native birds became threatened by invasive species such as cats, stoats, and rats. New Zealand now has one of the strongest environmentalist cultures and most impressive conservation programmes on the planet, exemplified by the efforts of European New Zealanders like Don Merton, who saved the native black robin from complete extinction. Indeed, Europeans are vastly over-represented in environmentalist organisations worldwide.
Taking a walk along the forest paths of tramping trails, Maori are an extremely rare sight to see - they seem uninterested in enjoying the beauty of 'their land'. They seem more engrossed in other topics like abolishing prisons and seizing the entire NZ coastline for themselves.
European New Zealanders have as much a right to this country as the Maori do, if not more so. This country was built, maintained and its biodiversity protected by our people. The claim that Maori have had a sensitive, protective relationship with New Zealand's ecosystem is totally contradicted by history. The enduring myth of the 'noble savage' is nothing but the product of 18th century sentimentalism - a stereotype invented by the 'evil imperialist Europeans'!
The Europeans were - and remain - the builders and maintainers of this country. On environmentalist grounds alone, our culture is one that must to be preserved and protected - not shamed and replaced. New Zealand's priceless ecosystem would face destruction if it was left to the care of the incompetent for political point-scoring, or to callous foreign exploiters for economic purposes. It would truly be a tragic loss for all of mankind.