Akoranga from research consultation with Maori on sequencing the genome of a taonga species
presentationposted on 10.03.2020, 03:59 by Alana Alexander
As uri (descendants) of Tangaroa (or Tāne-Mahuta in the pūrākau of some hapū), Hector’s and Māui dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori) are taonga (treasured). However, anthropogenic activities, particularly fishing (through fisheries bycatch), have led to restricted/fragmented distributions and significant reductions in genetic diversity in both subspecies. A worrying additional trend are deaths due to the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, potentially exacerbated by decreased genetic diversity. Hologenomics – a new paradigm where genomes of a host and its co-existing microbes (microbiome) are simultaneously investigated for novel insights into host health, population sizes, and connectivity – could therefore be an important tool to address susceptibility to toxoplasmosis and other diseases, as well as population sizes through time, potential divergence, and past patterns of interchange between the Hector’s and Māui dolphin.
However, in order to be effective partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi – particularly maintaining Māori rangatiratanga over resources and taonga, it is important that research consultation with mana whenua from the areas where Hector’s and Māui samples originate is undertaken. This is particularly important given the taonga status of Hector’s and Māui dolphins, as well as potential concerns about the rendering of ‘biological whakapapa’ into digital form during this project. Here, we outline our consultation procedures, the general feedback based on this consultation, our lessons learned from the process, and what we would do better/differently next time. We hope that presenting our experiences – particularly where there was room for improvement by us – will help other researchers to communicate more effectively with mana whenua in order to benefit Māori, the researchers, and their rangahau (research).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Alana Alexander: Alana’s research utilises the ‘time-traveling’ ability of population genomics and phylogenomics by combining genomics, advanced computational tools, and behavioural, ecological, and biogeographic data to make inferences about the processes leading to patterns of genetic diversity within and among populations. These inferences range from global spatial and deep temporal scales (e.g. the worldwide impact of climate fluctuations on global sperm whale populations over the last 125,000 years), to regional spatial scales across time scales relevant to local adaptation (e.g. the evolution of MHC immune genes in Hector’s and Māui dolphin populations), to finer spatial and temporal scales (e.g. the movement of a chickadee hybrid zone in Missouri by just a few kilometres over three decades). Overall, she considers herself a molecular ecologist/evolutionary biologist who focuses on the interplay between pattern and process in genomic data. As a Māori scientist (Ngāpuhi, Te Hikutu) she also maintains a strong interest in ensuring that her research can be used to support kaitiakitanga and rangatiratanga of resources within the rohe of iwi, hapū and papatipu rūnaka.
Benjamin Iwikau Te Aika: Ngati Mutunga, Te Ati Awa, Kati Wairaki, Kati Mamoe, Waitaha. Ben is a specialist in multiple areas, including Māori economic development in environmental advocacy, toi Māori (Māori art), whakairo (carving), and tā moko. Currently, he is the Vision Mātauranga Coordinator at Genomics Aoteraoa where he coordinates Māori consultation and outreach, identifies potential research collaborations with Māori communities, and supports Genomics Aotearoa’s projects and researchers. Ben aims to facilitate engagement to identify levels of acknowledgement and degree of control and provide proper recognition to the interests of Māori. Ben works with researchers and with Māori at multiple levels in the community to improve confidence, capacity and capability for engagement. Ben draws on knowledge in Mātauranga Māori, and also the research guidelines Te Ara Tika, Te Mata Ira and He Tangata Kei Tua. He also works on projects to improve genomics research relevance to Māori. One initiative has enhanced kaitiaki practices for a Māori landowner group in their management of native species - a great example of commerce, science and kaitiakitanga in the hands of flax roots Māori. Ben is passionate about his tamariki, hunting, whakapapa and whenua.