Indigenous harvesting

The relationships that many Indigenous Peoples have with nature is founded in understandings of nature as kin. Practices such as harvesting are critical components of these relationships, as are the knowledge systems that inform these practices.  Harvesting is a practice that strongly connects people and the plants and animals that surround and live with us. Traditional harvest protocols have developed over many years, from decades to millenia, by Indigenous peoples. Culturally valued plants are closely managed by communities (Wehi 2006, Wehi 2009).  However, harvested species are increasingly under pressure as habitat loss and environmental modification alter their population viability (Wehi and Wehi 2010, Bond et al. 2019).

Access to traditional foods, and the plants and animals that are harvested to create these delicacies, has emerged as a critical issue for many communities. Our group is currently working with marae communities in Tainui to collect data on traditional food gathering, and its importance at major tribal gatherings such as poukai (Wehi and Roa 2020). We aim to help build cultural and biological sustainability, to support the maintenance of these meetings for many years to come.

Currently, habitat fragmentation and destruction are major drivers of biodiversity loss, but climate change will create further massive changes. Our group has partnered with some of Aotearoa’s most knowledgeable weavers to explore how harvesting of a culturally valued weaving plant and a key medicinal plant, in the north of New Zealand might be affected by climate change, using projected climate scenarios to estimate likely plant distribution changes and what this could mean for the communities that cherish them (Bond et al. 2019). We are now attempting to predict the environmental conditions required to maintain key phenotypic traits for kuta (Bond et al. in prep). A great joy in this collaboration has been working with Northland marae, communities, and Te Rōpū Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa.

Introduced species may be valued highly by people, despite negative impacts on native ecosystems. They might, for example, provide essential food supplies for migrating peoples, either en route or in a new environment.  Human-ecological values in relation to introduced species are drawn from our cultural perceptions and experiences (Wehi and Roa 2020). In this research, I and my collaborators tease apart some of these issues, particularly where there are strong cultural histories. Our team is currently exploring representations of introduced species, and especially plants, in oral Māori tradition.

In other work, we are also considering how social justice interacts with environmental action to get rid of introduced species. One of these species is the Pacific rat or kiore (Rattus exulans). In New Zealand, kiore are now largely restricted to offshore islands, and although it can survive in a range of habitats, it also enjoys commensal habitat (Ricardo et al. 2020).

Researchers from our group are collaborating with Ngāti Wai to assess how traditional indicators of harvesting can combine with modern stock assessment methods to guide sustainable harvest yields of kiore. Kiore are traditionally harvested for food and fur in New Zealand, but are now restricted in distribution. By combining traditional indicators with modern population simulation tools incorporating the current ecological context, we aim to support harvest regimes that both increase mean annual offtake and population security over the longer term to best meet the management goals and responsibilities of the Indigenous guardians (Monks et al. submitted).