Wellington, New Zealand – This week, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited Aotearoa New Zealand at the invitation of Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta to highlight the United States’ role as a Pacific nation and the importance of international cooperation on addressing climate change and honoring Indigenous communities. For more than 70 years, the Department of the Interior has worked with counterparts in New Zealand on issues ranging from wildland fire response and natural hazard monitoring to wildlife conservation and responsible energy development.
The visit came as Aotearoa New Zealand continues to recover from the devastating impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle, and underscored why international collaboration is critical in the face of a changing climate that is bringing increasingly extreme weather events.
Secretary Haaland, U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Tom Udall, Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen G. Cantor, Chief of Staff Rachael Taylor, and Senior Advisor Raina Thiele participated in a number of meetings, site visits and tours, as well as the opening of the New Zealand Parliament following a meeting with the Labour Māori Caucus and visit to the 9/11 memorial.
In addition to Minister Mahuta, who facilitated a powerful pōwhiri – a Māori welcoming ceremony involving whaikōrero (formal speech), waiata (singing) and kai (food), the group met with a number of government leaders during their visit. Those included: Minister for Climate Change James Shaw, Minister for Courts Rino Tirikatene (co-chair of Labour Māori Caucus), Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson and Ambassador Kay Harrison.
The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum implements a repatriation program as part of its official mandate, including both domestic and international efforts that have included several partnerships in the United States. In 2003, the New Zealand government mandated that Te Papa develop a formal program for the repatriation of the ancestral remains of Māori and Moriori people from international institutions to iwi (Tribes). During a briefing and tour, Secretary Haaland discussed the Department’s ongoing implementation and updates to regulations related to the implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The particular threat of climate change to Pacific nations and island communities was a priority throughout the visit. The delegation visited the Zealandia Urban Eco-Sanctuary, which is working to restore one of Wellington’s valley forests and freshwater ecosystems and connect communities to their unique natural heritage. The 500-acre ecosanctuary is home to some of New Zealand’s most rare and extraordinary wildlife and has reintroduced 18 species back into the area, some of which had been absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years.
Secretary Haaland and her team also participated in a roundtable at Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR). For 23 years, the Interior Department’s U.S. Geological Survey and JCDR have collaborated on emergency-management research focused on understanding and managing the risk from earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.
This week’s visit spotlighted how Indigenous-led conservation efforts are helping to bolster the climate resiliency of both countries. The impact of Indigenous Knowledge and collaborative conservation across the Pacific region is already helping countries prepare, manage and recover from intensifying drought, wildfires, flooding, and other extreme weather events. Meetings with Māori business and economic leaders at Te Wharewaka, and Pacific Islander community leaders offered the opportunity to reinforce the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to empowering and investing in Indigenous communities and elevating the voices of those who have been historically underrepresented and marginalized.