Building pathways

It has been a whirlwind first six months for Ngāpera Keegan and Tekiteora Rolleston-Gabel, the first two young researchers in NIWA’s newly established Māori Graduate Internship Programme.

NIWA Māori Graduate Internship Programme

NIWA, through its Māori Environmental Research team Te Kūwaha, is working in collaborative partnerships with Māori businesses, and whānau, hapū and iwi throughout Aotearoa, combining their skills in scientific enquiry with mātauranga Māori expertise, within the frame of tikanga Māori. Demand for this capability in Aotearoa– New Zealand, is growing, and the pathways for early career researchers are few, resulting in a scarcity of expertise.

NIWA’s Māori Graduate Internship programme has been established to help address this growing need, while also supporting and creating visible pathways for the next generation of Māori researchers. The purpose of the programme is to encourage Māori science graduates to consider ongoing postgraduate study and Māori environmental research as a career pathway.

Ngāpera Keegan

Iwi: Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Raukawa ki Te Kaokaoroa-o-Pātetere. Hapū: Ngāti Apakura

Ngāpera Keegan worked for two nights under the June full moon alongside Masters student Siobhan Nuri catching glass eels as they entered the Rangitāiki River mouth in the Bay of Plenty.

“We caught over 1400,” explains Ngāpera.

“We identified all the glass eels to species under the microscope, measured and weighed a subsample of them and returned them to the river the next day. We also counted all other fish species, which included herring, smelt and even a recently hatched īnanga larva.”

“This year’s sampling was six weeks earlier than in 2019, and we weren’t expecting to catch that many. We sat on the bank watching the moon rise on the second night, trying to work out why there were so many this time of the year. It was so cool to be part of that.”

The interns work across NIWA for 12 months gaining, practical experience, building networks and developing a platform from which to consider a long-term research career. They gain experience in freshwater, marine and estuarine science, fisheries, aquaculture, climate change and hazards, social research and mātauranga Māori, while learning how to communicate effectively with Māori and work collaboratively across disciplines.

The internship has involved a diverse range of projects to date for the Bachelor of Sciences graduate. As well as fieldwork, analysing samples and processing data, Ngāpera has created an educational booklet about īnanga as part of NIWA’s taonga species series.

“I chose to do īnanga because it’s an important species for inland tribes, so being from Waikato and Maniapoto, it’s an important species to research for me,” says Ngāpera.

“I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to experience all that I have so far. I want to tell everyone that if they get the chance to be part of this – do it.”

Ngāpera Keegan

Tekiteora Rolleston-Gabel

Iwi: Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Awa

A double graduate in ecology and Te Reo Māori from the University of Waikato, Tekiteora Rolleston-Gabel says she is not just interested in the interactions between animals “but also people, places and the environment.”

“I’m amazed by the range of projects NIWA is involved in, and how they’re being implemented to support communities and their environmental aspirations.”

Tekiteora saw this in action on a recent trip to Umupuia marae to support a tuangi (cockle) survey. Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki kaitiaki have been working with the Te Kūwaha team to develop a cultural assessment framework for their rohe moana. This draws on their cultural values, observations, monitoring and mātauranga, while also using some of the assessment tools in Nga Waihotanga Iho – NIWA’s estuarine monitoring toolbox.

“I got to see how Te Kūwaha supports this whanau-led process,” says Tekiteora.

“It was so exciting to be part of this. It made me wonder about how these tools may be applied to contribute to the environmental aspirations of my own hapū and iwi.”

Tekiteora says it’s the little, unexpected moments of discovery that have been the most memorable for her.

“Getting to experience those moments, and working with so many researchers in such diverse fields, has been such a great experience. It has reinforced my desire to go on with environmental science. This is where I want to be.”

This article forms part of Water & Atmosphere July 2020, read more stories from this series.

Tekiteora Rolleston-Gabel