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Bridging the Gap: Integrating Engineering, Law, and Indigenous Self-Determination in Infrastructure Development

Rachael Evans, Lecturer, University of Cantebury


Indigenous peoples worldwide are increasingly asserting their rights in infrastructure development processes, seeking to ensure their voices are heard and their self-determination respected. This proposal aims to explore the intersection of engineering, law, and indigenous self-determination within the context of infrastructure projects in Aotearoa New Zealand. Drawing on case studies and interdisciplinary research, this paper will examine the impacts of indigenous involvement (or exclusion) on infrastructure projects and propose pathways for more inclusive and culturally sensitive approaches.


This paper will delve into the evolving role of indigenous communities in infrastructure development within the unique socio-legal landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand. It will highlight the significance of indigenous self-determination in shaping infrastructure projects and fostering sustainable development.

Utilizing two contrasting case studies, namely the inclusion of Ngāti Tama in the State Highway 3 Mt Messenger Bypass Project and the exclusion of Ngāi Tahu from the Kaikoura earthquake response, this paper will analyse the legal and policy implications of indigenous involvement in infrastructure development. By comparing these experiences, it will illustrate how indigenous participation contributes to community capacity-building, financial empowerment, and the preservation of cultural heritage and land connections.

Moreover, this paper will discuss forthcoming interdisciplinary research collaborations between the author and a colleague from the College of Engineering. This research seeks to explore indigenous perspectives in infrastructure development and their potential impact on law, policy, and engineering practices. By integrating indigenous knowledge systems into engineering methodologies and legal frameworks, this research aims to foster more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable infrastructure development processes. By bridging the gap between engineering, law, and indigenous self- determination, we can work towards more inclusive and sustainable infrastructure solutions that respect the rights and aspirations of indigenous peoples.