May Portrait – Ani Kainamu Murchie

Image: Ani Kainamu Murchie in the fieldThis fifth of twelve portraits in 2017, honoring alumni from thirty years of Roth Endowment programs, features Ani Kainamu Murchie. Ani received the Robin and Avril Winks Award in 2013; unlike our other Project Support awards, which go to Americans going overseas, this one goes to a New Zealand Fulbrighter coming to study and/or do research in the United States. In her portrait, Ani explains the cultural roots of her ecological work.

To introduce myself, I am from Aotearoa New Zealand and I was educated in “kura Māori”—which is schooling taught in the Māori language. Māori are the Indigenous people of Aotearoa; this type of schooling was established by the leadership of parents and grandparents to revitalise our culture. Attending both kura Māori and English schooling gave me insight into multiple ways of knowing—that is, into both Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge.

Image: Ani Kainamu Murchie looks out across the ocean.I have been interested in natural systems since I was a kid, as our diverse environment shapes our culture. My dissertation research at the University of Canterbury and Hawai`i Pacific University focussed on the sociocultural- and science-based values and indicators of estuarine shellfish in NZ and Hawai`i. The study looked at food safety, shellfish health, shellfish population abundance (and changes), land-use, and management effectiveness. Shellfish are utilised across the world as scientific indicators of environmental condition. Indigenous and Traditional ecological knowledge inherently involves indicators of environmental conditions, which have guided sustainable management of natural resources. Both knowledge systems are important and guide management best when utilised in parallel with each other, so it is important to address and protect both sociocultural and ecological values in legislation.

In developing my project, I was guided by the indigenous environmental philosophies ki uta ki tai and ma uka ma kai, meaning “mountain to sea,” in Māori and Kanaka Maoli, respectively.  This is a holistic concept of environmental management that includes an integrated ecosystem approach, and challenges our contemporary compartmentalised approach. An example of this approach is the aquatic fisheries systems (loko i`a/fishpond) on O`ahu Island, Hawai`i. These systems were designed by Kanaka to work with the environment by enhancing brackish conditions for herbivorous fish and shellfish. They are fundamentally part of the ma uka ma kai integrated ecological system—from the streams upland, to the terraced wetlands, to the loko i`a, and then the coast and sea.

Image: Ani Kainamu Murchie after earning her Ph.D. The support I received from the Lois Roth Endowment enabled me to assess trace metal contamination—a very important indicator of environmental health. Shellfish in waterways are active filter-feeders, providing sediment stability, food for people and other organisms (such as birds), and cultural-ecological interaction. Trace metals can negatively impact shellfish species and hence also disrupt the important ecosystem services they provide within brackish estuary systems. My study showed that in watersheds using more natural land-use and practices, the shellfish were “healthy” and safe to consume.

I completed my doctorate last month and am very excited to have been awarded a post-doctoral position as an Environmental Scientist in the Te Kūwaha team (National Centre of Māori Environmental Research) at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). One research program I will be involved in—called “Ngā Kete o Te Wānanga: Mātauranga Māori, Science and Freshwater Management”—is investigating how to bring multiple knowledge systems together to improve our decision-making in freshwater environments. The project works at culturally-defined spatial scales—from upland streams to estuary “sinks”—to investigate how to best protect and support the socio-cultural values, uses, and opportunities associated with our waterways.

Image: a New Zealand Landscape