By Rosemary Rangitauira 24/05/2021

Mihi mai ki a Dr Jane Kitson, an ecologist and environmental scientist, who as a youngster dreamed of becoming Indiana Jane. She hails from Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe and Waitaha.

“My immediate family’s lives revolve around the seasonal calendar of gathering kai. Like kaimoana (seafood), tītī (muttonbirds), trout, salmon, duck or deer hunting,” she says.

Her upbringing and curiosity about the outdoors and its connection to all living things inspired her to pursue environmental research, primarily around water and food gathering.

“Being and playing outdoors was always part of who I am. My PhD was about tītī (sooty shearwaters). I grew up knowing that my father’s family had whakapapa connection to the Tītī islands and the right to harvest from there. That herenga (connection) to my whānau drew me to researching more about tītī.”

Jane runs her own business, Kitson Consulting Ltd, which she says gives her the ability to choose the mahi she does.

“It sounds flash, but it isn’t really. It means I work for myself, have the freedom to work around my whānau and choose projects that can support Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku. But I am a hard taskmaster on myself and I like to work with others because it’s boring working by myself.”

A lively character, Jane loves working with and for whānau.

She was driven to research kanakana (New Zealand lamprey or pouched lamprey) after helping a whānau who wanted assistance writing up their cultural monitoring about the taonga species.

She’s now involved in a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) project with NIWA. The research seeks to understand the habitat needs of kanakana (lamprey).

“We tracked and tagged pre-spawning kanakana to their spawning nests and recorded the nests and behaviour.”

Jane jokes that undertaking that mahi isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“It takes about 14 months between tagging and spawning. We use a large portable scanner and track the kanakana by walking up and down the river. We have some incredible Ngāi Tahu and NIWA field staff who helped track them.”

Her research is due to be completed and published early next year. But she says some of the initial research will be published soon, as well as an international collaboration about lamprey fisheries including history, trends and management in the Journal of Great Lakes Special Issue on Sea Lamprey International Symposium III (SLIS III).

“Tāngata whenua are the main driver of managing and protecting kanakana here in Aotearoa. Part of the kanakana mahi we’re doing here provides a tool kit around taonga management for whānau, for a species that very little was known about before.”

Jane has also been working with Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiki and Environment Southland (Southland Regional Council) on developing the Draft Murihiku Southland Freshwater Objectives document that is based on science and Ngāi Tahu health indicators.

Bonus Read

What advice do you have for emerging kairangahau Māori (Māori researchers)?

“Believe in yourself and your kaupapa. Know that more established Māori researchers are keen to see you succeed and are there to help you. I have had a couple of lonely decades of being a Māori freshwater scientist. It’s thank to my Māori researcher networks and connection to whānau that have kept me going. I am excited to see younger and very clever Māori researchers coming through and believe that they will contribute significantly to a better future for Māori.”

Dr Jane Kitson says it’s crucial to develop and support Mātauranga Māori research.

“As a nation and part of the international community, it is crucial to develop and support mātauranga Maori and kaupapa Māori research because it provides such unique opportunities and solutions, as well as frameworks to connect whenua, taiao and tāngata (people).

She says Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga supports many different research disciplines and can bring disciplines together to provide powerful solutions to cultural, social, economic and environmental issues for Māori and Aotearoa.

Dr Jane Kitson is featured in the recently published book Ngā Kete Mātauranga – Māori scholars at the Research Interface and talks more in-depth about her upbringing, her disconnection from her taha Māori (Māori heritage), education and the value of working with whānau Māori and serving her people of Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku.