By Rosemary Rangitauira 11/08/2021

Dr Maria Bargh, who has a PhD in Political Science and International Relations, is driven to use her research disciplines to create positive social change in Aotearoa.

Her research focusses on three key areas:

  • Māori politics
  • te taiao – the environment; and
  • the Māori economy

Maria is based in Wellington and is an associate professor in Te Kawa a Māui (the School of Māori Studies) at Victoria University in Wellington.

Her primary research field is in politics and whose opinion on Māori politics is regularly sought by the media.

Maria has an interest in constitutional change, Māori representation across general and local elections as well as exploring Māori voter turnout numbers.

“I’m currently interested in the discussion around the Māori Electoral Option because it’s quite a narrow conversation about frequency and timing and not about what I think is really important, which is what’s a just and equitable share of power for Māori in Aotearoa.”

Maria is also passionate about te taiao.

In addition to being of Ngāti Awa descent, Maria also hails from Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara in Horohoro, a rural farming community about 15 kilometres southwest of Rotorua. The settlement is named after the breathtaking flat-top mountain that has perpendicular cliffs and is called Te Horohoroinga o ngā ringa o Kahumatamomoe.

She smiles warmly as she tells us about her focus on te taiao research.

“This has come to the fore because of the work I do for my hapū, Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara where I’m the minerals advisor. I’ve been supporting the rūnanga to respond to prospecting and exploration applications in our area, mostly for minerals. And I’ve also been involved in a Horohoro predator-free management project on the maunga (mountain). This mahi around the taiao has led me to my work with the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge – Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho.

This National Science Challenge aims to manaaki (look after) and manage the country’s biodiversity as well as enhance our resilience to harmful organisms.

Maria and her colleague, Dr Carwyn Jones, are co-leads of the Biological Heritage Challenge’s Adaptive Governance and Policy team that’s exploring how governance and policy need to change to enable better environmental outcomes.

Their team aims to build new systems and policies that provide better bio-heritage protections that embrace the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, co-design policies as well as co-governance over natural resources.

“We need constitutional change, we need systemic change to ensure Māori rights are guaranteed as kaitiaki and for Māori obligations as kaitiaki to be better upheld. If we grow our rangatiratanga-sphere and enable Te Tiriti led governance of the environment, we can have better environmental outcomes,” says Maria.

A member of multiple boards and governing bodies including academia, non-government organisations and Crown entities, Maria was also appointed a member of the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Climate Committee last year.

She has a lingering interest in the Māori economy and, in 2020, was recognised by the Royal Society of New Zealand for her contribution to self-determination for Māori.

She strives to arm people with knowledge that helps communities to make decisions.

“My interest in Māori economy comes from my earlier research around diverse economies and trying to help people to think beyond farming, fishing and forestry, and to see the bigger picture of what’s happening in society. In a modern economy, all the different elements of voluntary labour, illegal labour and transactions that make up the reality that we live in and ensures community survival. As well as the different hidden economies and voluntary labour, say at the Marae. We need to be talking more about how obligations and reciprocal relationships contribute to the economy.”

Maria says she has a few pieces of work coming out over the next year or so.

She says one is a book about the iwi traffic checkpoints set up during the national COVID lockdown, which she is working on with a teaching fellow at Victoria University, Luke Fitzmaurice, and is based on interviews with those who ran the checkpoints.

The book is due to be published soon.

She’s also editor for another book that’s due out next year. It is about environmental politics and policy in Aotearoa New Zealand and includes a collection of perspectives from Māori and non-Māori. It explores the place of Te Tiriti and gender authority in addressing environmental issues including climate change.

Maria has also co-authored an upcoming article with Ellie Tapsell for the Policy Quarterly journal, which is due out soon and looks at strengthening rangatiratanga by adopting a ‘tika transition’, a fair and just transition, for climate change.