Opinion Pieces

To celebrate Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori language week) we're profiling some of our incredible Māori scientists and kaitiaki (guardians). Melanie is one of the two Challenge directors and a tireless champion for Māori in science and environmental spaces . . .

Melanie Mark-Shadbolt
Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Te Arawa (Ngāti Kea Ngāti Tuara), Te Atiawa, Ngāti Raukawa me Ngāti Tūwharetoa
Director Māori at NZ’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge
(also CEO of Te Tira Whakamātaki and Kaihautū Chief Māori Advisor at the Ministry for the Environment)

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I was born in Waiouru, but as an army brat I lived everywhere including a stint in Oman. However, I’ve spent most of my life in and around Ōtautahi Christchurch including Rangiora which is where I live now.

What are your earliest memories of nature/the environment?
My earliest memories of nature are family trips to lakes, hunting and fishing with my dad and brothers, and tending the vegetable garden with my mum.

I’ve been fortunate though to experience lots of different landscapes, and I also have fond memories of climbing desert sand dunes and swimming in the Arabian Sea as a child. As an adult I’ve loved taking my kids camping, boating and hiking in the alpine regions.

How would you describe your job?
I wear many hats, as do many Māori working in the research and environmental spaces. My day-to-day work can be anything from meetings with officials to discuss Māori concepts and aspirations, through to fieldwork with knowledge holders or advocacy for Treaty rights.

My jobs are varied, fun and a privilege. It’s a privilege to work for the environment, to support Māori aspirations, and to work with talented, passionate and inspiring people.

What inspired you to follow your chosen career?
My career trajectory hasn’t been typical and to an extent I’ve stumbled into opportunities. However, I’ve been inspired by specific people, causes or topics of interest.

Explicitly I’ve been inspired by traditional knowledge holders, activists, advocates, researchers and kaitiaki who care about their people, their places and their taonga.

How does your Māori whakapapa/culture influence how you approach your mahi?
My whakapapa influences everything I do and therefore how I approach my mahi. I am completely aware that being tangata whenua is an honour that comes with responsibility, especially to the whenua!

It is an honour to share a familial connection to the environment and a worldview that is holistic by nature and focused on long-term benefits. But that ancestral connection comes with a duty to care and consult, as well as a responsibility to tiaki (protect) the environment.

What are your hopes for Māori in this space in the future?
I hope that the Treaty will be honoured in a manner that allows Māori to actively partner in the protection and restoration of our biodiversity.

I hope that the next generation has the opportunity to enjoy the environment the way we have, and to be active participants in decision-making around its protection.

I want to see a; Crown Research Institute appoint a Māori Chief Executive; government appoint a Māori Secretary for the Environment or Māori Director-General for the Department of Conservation; and a University appoint a Māori Vice-Chancellor.  

I want to see Māori leading in the science and environment spaces.  

How do you think BioHeritage can/will help with this?
The Challenge’s focus on ‘leading by example’, or ‘walking the talk’, means that outcomes for Māori are a significant focus of its work. Everything from science design, through to science procurement, management and delivery are designed with Māori to support their aspirations and needs.

This means we are able to include a wider set of Māori researchers than other providers, we can create and implement protection plans for mātauranga, and we can show how a Treaty partnership can be enacted in the science research world.

Have you found this research useful? Please help the cause by sharing