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  • Writer's pictureJuhi

An Indigenous View on Doughnut Economics from New Zealand

My heritage – my whakapapa – has been shaped by 200 years of colonialism: I am a woman of Indian-Pakistani descent who was born in the UK. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that, when coming to New Zealand three and half years ago, I wanted to make sure that my sustainability practices here reflected – and were shaped by – the indigenous peoples of New Zealand.

Working in sustainability, one understands that context is key. When we fail to identify or understand the nuanced, complex, systemic and local context of a situation, the best-intentioned solutions simply won’t solve society’s most pressing problems.

The first economic model I came across which offered an effective, modern context for our planet is the doughnut, developed by acclaimed economist and author, Kate Raworth.

Recently adopted by the city of Amsterdam to inform its policies, the doughnut identifies both the social foundation required to ensure that humanity is treated in a manner that is ‘safe and just’ (based on the social SDGs) and an ecological ceiling, showing the nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive (note: we have already crossed four). In between is the ‘safe and just space’ for humanity to thrive, also described by Kate as the space for a regenerative and distributive economy.

To inform the local context for sustainability, I felt New Zealand needed a doughnut of its own. I have been to too many meetings held to discuss issues affecting minority groups (Māori, Pasifika, women, children) without them at the table. Clearly, the process of reimagining the doughnut needed be led by an indigenous voice – female if possible.

Enter scientist and Executive Manager of the BHW Lands Trust, Teina Boasa-Dean. Teina and I first met at the Ōhanga Āmiomio Pacific Circular Economy Summit in 2019 where she spoke powerfully about the divine kinship Māori have with the natural world.

I asked her to take on the interpretation of the doughnut in the hope that it would provide New Zealand with the social and environmental context for the nascent circular economy. While we have an opportunity to reflect and reset post Covid-19, the new solutions we create must be better than the broken systems of the past which have accelerated inequality and waste. If we’re not careful, circular ‘solutions’ could simply benefit those who can afford them. Using the doughnut as a framework can ensure that circular opportunities restore our ecosystems and are inclusive, diverse and distributed equitably across our cities, regions and society.

The Te Reo Māori doughnut we created (below) was ultimately a collaboration between four women including Jennifer McIver, Director of Wishbone Design Studio and fellow member of the Circular Economy Accelerator Advisory Board; and Tineke Tatt, a talented designer of Pacific Island descent, both of whom played a key role in the evolution and creativity of the design.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation team hosted a meeting after the 2019 Summit in London to discuss the role of indigenous people in the circular economy. Teina and I shared the draft diagram, noting it hadn’t yet had Kate Raworth’s blessing. But we didn’t just share the translation of the doughnut, we shared a second version: Teina’s reimagining of the doughnut from a Tūhoe Māori perspective, with the environment as its foundation, and social elements on the outer ring (below).

While I was initially confronted by Teina’s ‘flipped’ version, I soon realised that this was her worldview, and all the more relevant because of this. I also understood the power of Te Reo Māori: our planetary boundaries, or ecological ceiling, becomes hā tuamātangi: the Earth’s last breath: incredibly rich and evocative.

As this depiction is the perspective of one Māori person, it obviously doesn’t represent the view of all mana whenua. There are other perspectives, including a doughnut also created in 2019, by Johnnie Freeland.

As Kate Raworth said when we shared our versions with her on Twitter:

Whatever your worldview, it is powerful to recognise that two perspectives of the New Zealand context – Māori and Pakeha – can sit side by side. It is our hope that these two perspectives, and more, spark dialogue on our journey to build a better future.

How, then, can indigenous knowledge and practice become the foundation of building resilient and regenerative cities?

Teina embodies and carries forward the wisdom of her ancestors. Her stories describe her deep connection with the biosphere which enables her to think about her existence as dependent on the biosphere, and not the other way around:

My ability to thrive in union with Mother Nature occurs when I have not dehumanised or desensitised myself to the extent that I do not recognise that I am violating Mother Nature.”

In considering a regenerative economy as described by the doughnut, Teina says that there is no substitute for helping people become more connected with their ecology and surroundings. As a scientist, she also notes that we must make room for indigenous knowledge, explaining that matauranga Māori is a technical science and its concepts are planets away from western science. Indigenous scientists such as herself must then become teachers of this empirical, indigenous wisdom.

Teina invokes one of the most famous proverbial sayings in Māoridom:

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

What is the most important thing in the universe? It is people, it is people, it is people.

She notes that at the time at which that particular proverb was created and imagined...

“...there was a balance between human behaviour and healthy boundaries of human behaviour in their relationship to the environment. So, at that particular point in time, when things were in more of a balance, of course people could celebrate their behaviour in relationship with the environment.
Today, indigenous communities increasingly recognise that this is not the case, and having to position the earth mother and sky father at the centre of a diagram like this, makes things overt and explicit.”

Teina’s work reimagining the doughnut from a Māori perspective and her views on connection, balance and indigenous science contribute to our understanding of our context here in New Zealand. They bring an essential perspective to our exploration of the building blocks for regenerative cities. We look forward to continuing our conversation with her.

About Teina:

Teina Boasa-Dean (Msoc.Sci, PhD completing)

Teina is a Tūhoe indigenous educationalist with a thirty year background in environmental science from both a Tūhoe technical perspective and a western scientific understanding.  She is resident in her tribal homelands where her insights about the natural world continue to be informed from this fundamental position culturally, intellectually and spiritually.


To hear Teina explain the Te Reo Māori doughnuts in her own words and explore indigenous listen to Episode 2 of Moonshot:City:

Do you have feedback on the doughnuts? Contact Juhi and Priti at:


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