Relational values provide common ground and expose multi-level constraints to cross-cultural wetland management.
The unprecedented level of threat facing many of the world's natural and cultural systems calls for the collaboration of multiple interest groups to engage in aligned environmental action. Understanding interest groups' relational values (i.e. values in relation to an ecosystem and its people), and the constraints they experience in enacting those values, can contribute to enhance cross-cultural understanding and facilitate intergroup collaboration, leading to improved outcomes for both ecosystems and people. To study these assumptions, we conducted semi-structured interviews in Aotearoa New Zealand to investigate the values that tangata tiaki (Māori environmental guardians) and landowners have regarding wetland ecosystems, and constraints impeding the enactment of values in environmental action. Findings show that while couched within different worldviews, tangata tiaki and landowners held values with related characteristics, such as ahikāroa (long-standing occupation of and connection to place) and attachment to place, highlighting possible common ground. However, we also show that a greater weighting upon different key values by each of the groups hindered the enactment of a wider suite of values. Tangata tiaki prioritised relational (e.g. mauri, life force) over instrumental values while landowners generally prioritised instrumental values (i.e. economic benefit), creating conditions for conflict in values between groups, and hindering tangata tiaki wetland ecosystem management and use. Importantly, both groups' constraints occurred at multiple levels of the social system, and were reported to be associated with management practices, the complex matrix of policies and lack of capacity. Tangata tiaki value expression was further hindered by persisting power differentials between themselves and landowners, historically rooted in marginalisation of Māori rights and jurisdiction and loss of access to traditional land and resources. New Zealand's governance structures largely based on Western values also prevented Māori self-determination. This research suggests that investigating interest groups' relational values is beneficial to establish areas of common ground and for fostering joint efforts in ecosystem management. We suggest that constraints to environmental stewardship must be addressed at multiple levels of the social system to enable better representation of Indigenous values in environmental management.