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Yvonne Taura

Yvonne Taura (Ngāiterangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Uenuku, Ngāti Hauā) is a kairangahau (researcher) collaborating with iwi on mātauranga Māori and Western science.

Yvonne TauraWhat do you do on an average work day?

An average work day at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research is very varied as I am involved in multiple projects, all with different completion dates.

I work with a dynamic kairangahau Māori rōpū – Manaaki Taiao – within Manaaki Whenua, and we are often required to respond to a range of enquiries and research kaupapa. Most of our projects are kaupapa Māori-based, where the foundation of our work is collaborating with iwi and hapū research partners.

An average working day can include office- or field-based mahi. Office-based mahi involves scheduled hui with project teams via Zoom or in person, reading/writing/reviewing papers or reports, responding to the countless emails that flood my inbox, and hiding in my office to work on my PhD proposal. Field-based mahi involves travelling all over Aotearoa to hui with research partners, interview project participants or run project workshops. 

Let’s just say, I never get bored working as a kairangahau within the Manaaki Taiao team!

What did you study at school? And after high school?

Science, whether that was physics, chemistry, or mathematics, was such an intimidating subject for me. I always assumed it was for the smart kids as I never understood the theory of scientific concepts. I was (and still am) a hands-on learner, and when learning in a lab I found it difficult to grasp the basic scientific principles.

I believed I wasn’t smart enough to do these subjects, and my teachers never encouraged me to pursue science in my senior school years. So, I focused my attentions on the creative subjects like art and graphic design. These were subjects I excelled in – I could express myself through visual art, and I could escape and explore my creative expression through painting and design. So, I went on to complete a graphic design course when I graduated high school.

My desire to study science came later in life, in my 20s, when I became more aware of our impact on the environment. I decided to study environmental management, which, much to my surprise, included science papers. Even more surprisingly for me, was my new-found interest in chemistry and biology, and the level of support I received from my tutors and mentors who encouraged me to continue my academic career. I studied at Te Wānanga o Raukawa (DipEM), then went on to Te Whare Wānanga O Āwanuiārangi (BSc), followed by University of Waikato (MSc), and now my PhD.

My friends from high school can’t believe I am a scientist, let alone that I have graduated from university. I find it amazing how life can change course if you have the support of tutors and mentors on your journey.

I would like to take this moment to acknowledge and mihi my uncles Te Rangituamatatoru Tamaira and Rakato Te Rangiita, both born and bred along the shores of Taupō-nui-a-tia. They have guided and supported me to continue on my path as a scientist and kairangahau. If it wasn’t for them, I know I would never have ventured along the route to completing my academic studies and working in the field of science and research.

Yvonne graduating

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

Yes, eventually my studies did align with my current mahi.

All the studies I completed helped me define the direction of the science and research I wanted to explore. Much of my work led me towards research in freshwater wetlands and working collaboratively with iwi and hapū to align with their tribal values and aspirations.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

For any young women thinking about their career choices, I would tell them that your path can change direction at any moment. Follow your heart, and don’t be surprised when the unexpected presents itself.

Allow your tutors and mentors to guide and support you, as they can see something in you that you’re not willing to see in yourself at that time. My interests working for the environment became clearer to me as each stage revealed a passion I was not aware of. These were often unlocked by those amazing tutors and mentors who appeared at different stages of my life.

Kia kaha wahine mā!

What are some of your career highlights so far?

I have many career highlights – from meeting and working with other passionate scientists, environmentalists and conservationists to being involved in iwi-led projects collaborating with marae, hapū and iwi to develop tools and frameworks that align to their cultural values and aspirations. There are so many to choose from.

Probably the most recent highlights for me include my Masters in Science research, which investigated the effects of willow and willow control on wetland microfaunal assemblages in South Taupō Wetland. I chose this topic as the intensive grey willow control regimes were a major concern to my hapū of Ngā Runuku in our repo (wetland), and I was supported to explore any impacts on aquatic life in the repo.

After completing my MSc I was fortunate to be offered an internship with Waikato Raupatu River Trust (WRRT), an entity of Waikato-Tainui. The internship led to a 2-year secondment working for both WRRT and Manaaki Whenua, which was made possible through the Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund. My main project was to support the development of mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge) understanding by Waikato-Tainui tribal members for them to apply to managing freshwater wetlands.

During this time I was able to implement science principles in my work through a tribal lens. An example of this was co-editing and releasing Te Reo o Te Repo, a cultural wetland handbook that was a collaborative project between Manaaki Whenua and WRRT. The handbook includes processes for facilitating renewed and vibrant connections between whānau and their repo, understanding cultural resources, and learning from on-the-ground case studies of wetland restoration and monitoring that use cultural indicators.

This year, I enrolled in PhD studies (part-time), thanks to a full scholarship from Manaaki Whenua. In the last five years I’ve been involved in collaborative projects, with mana whenua participation, that have produced successful outcomes for the tribal group. The involvement of kaumātua (elders) and rangatahi (youth) have been particularly interesting to me, as their intergenerational knowledge transfer directly informs the development of tribal-specific tools and frameworks that align to tribal aspirations. For my PhD, I will explore the challenges involved in how mātauranga Māori and Māori-centred science tools and frameworks are adopted by iwi and hapū, in order to develop better tools and frameworks that will be more meaningful to iwi and hapū.

Yvonne with colleagues

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

Engaging in STEM is vital in understanding the environmental changes that occur both locally and globally.

I believe that STEM, alongside social sciences and indigenous knowledge systems (from all over the world and, most importantly, from mātauranga Māori) provides a fundamental understanding of our natural resources - and how best to adapt and address ecological pressures on our environment. Education in STEM, for all members of society, is crucial to addressing these pressures.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

I work in a team of highly passionate and intelligent wāhine Māori who are making great strides to allow younger women in science to take up roles and positions that over a decade ago would not have been offered to women.

I am in awe of the wāhine working in STEM, who I also call my friends – a lot of whom are already profiled, who are specialists in their respective fields. If I'd had these wāhine as my role models when I was at school, perhaps studying STEM at high school would not have been such an intimidating and daunting experience for me.

Yvonne with her son Te Ariki

Yvonne Taura (Ngāiterangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Uenuku, Ngāti Hauā) is a kairangahau (researcher) at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. She works at the interface of mātauranga Māori and western science, collaborating with iwi research partners to develop research outputs that align with iwi values and aspirations.

Yvonne is currently enrolled in her PhD at the University of Waikato, with a full scholarship from Manaaki Whenua. Her research focuses on exploring ways of empowering iwi and hapū to utilise mātauranga Māori-centred science tools and frameworks to carry out their kaitiakitanga responsibilities. She lives in Hamilton, raising her young son, Te Ariki.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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