For CSI Associate Aimee Kaio (Ngāi Tahu, Te Arawa, Ngā Puhi), the weaving together of Western science, mātauranga Māori, and Antarctic research to inform climate forecasting and action is where magic is made. This year Aimee brought that magic to an international platform, as she presented on Māori associations with Southern Oceans at the 2023 INSTANT Conference held in Italy.
With a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Bachelor in Science (Biochemistry) Aimee has an extensive background in iwi and regional development, governance, and scientific research. Aimee is the Research and Innovation Director at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, a Trustee for Community Trust South, a board member at COIN South and Eat New Zealand, Kahui Māori board member at Deep South Challenge, and is Kāhui Māori Co-Chair for the Antarctic Science Platform.
When asked what drove her passion for science and climate action, Aimee credits her upbringing on her marae and leadership of those around her, “I’ve been raised in a community that functions like a village, so I was raised by a village on our marae that had very strong women leadership.
“My mum and aunties had a very strong influence on my life – and yes, some epic uncles too,” she reflects.
“So, I went off to university and studied biochemistry, and then shifted back home with my first child and was looped back into the tribal space – where all my interests stem from.”
Returning home, Aimee jumped into the regional development space, engaging in different sectors and systems to help uplift the rohe.
“In Bluff, I had the opportunity to delve into a lot of spaces. I got to experience what it takes to establish an early childcare centre, engaging with the Crown, education and research. I learnt about funding mechanisms and project management, worked in the social and health sector, and supported the establishment of a Māori health provider – not just for Bluff, but for all of Southland.”
“That was huge learning for me all round,” she says.
Being so connected to her homeland, Aimee has seen firsthand the impact of climate change in Bluff.
“Climate action is a true passion of mine, and I think it’s because, in my lifetime, I’ve seen quite significant change in our coastal environment, and now have a 3-year-old granddaughter and I know what she’s experiencing now is going to change and, when she has grandchildren… It really scares me what our environment/taiao is going to look like.”
The Antarctic science platform and marine protected areas in the Ross Sea are a big interest area for Aimee, “Ross Sea and Antarctic science is world leading and can tell us what we can expect for the future. This science is critical and, at this point in time, is not well known or understood in smaller communities.”
“I feel this area is the hub of climate change forecasting trends, and we’re taught a lot about the risk profiles for different species.”
Her role as Joint Char of the Kāhui Māori (cultural advisory) for the New Zealand Antarctic Science Platform has involved strong promotion of mātauranga Māori, saying, “From a science lens, the incorporation of mātauranga is valuable, but from a strategic and political lens, the joining of Western and mātauranga can be quite powerful for stronger environmental voice, standards, and planning.”
The incorporation of indigenous knowledge systems into Western science, Aimee says, is beneficial for Aotearoa as a whole, “It attracts international interest and investment into more science and building New Zealand’s capability in climate action.”
“All of these international conglomerates, groups, and parties are coming together to really try and combat the challenge of climate that we all face, and they’re all seeking indigenous voices, guidance, and advice.”
When asked what stood out to her the most at the conference, she says, “What I really enjoyed is that there was a day specifically focussed on the early career researchers.”
“Their research projects are quite innovative and out of the box and, just different to what our institutes of science and the ‘gurus’ are doing.”
“What was coming through was a real switch in thinking, they’re going deeper, the language is changing, and they’re talking a lot about connection. When they’re looking at a species, they’re saying, ‘what is the whakapapa of that species?’ And they always link it back to an indigenous… something, so it’s made them curious and they’re asking real questions.”
The voices at the conference, she says, are wanting indigenous involvement and express concern over causing offence to others, “That type of thing was beautiful. To see the next generation of our amazing science leaders coming through have a broader worldview.”
In saying that, Aimee adds, “Not to put down our past and existing scientists – they’re amazing as well – I just think there’s a new narrative that’s been coming through and we’ve got a broader lens on the science world.”
These interactions with the up-and-coming scientists at INSTANT weave through Aimee’s existing mindset toward her work, “I take an intergenerational approach to everything I do, it’s in everything I do.”
While an intergenerational approach to climate change and science involves considering the future, it also means learning from the past.
“Taking an intergenerational approach is acknowledging the whakapapa, where we’ve come from and why we are connected to our place.”
She goes on to say, “Over time, within our tribe, we’ve got a couple generations of families, and within these generations, journals and documents, especially around Muttonbird, hunting, harvesting of seafood and seaweed and things such as this that change over time.”
“In particular, there are changes in our sea level rise, temperature and what’s happening in different habitats.”
In practice, Aimee says, “Taking an intergenerational approach is acknowledging the whakapapa, where we’ve come from and why we are connected to our place.”
Looking toward the future of climate action in Aotearoa, Aimee says, “There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m up for it.”
“I’m hopeful that we will have more Māori engaging in the space and within the next decade that the science and mātauranga is communicated back to the communities that are most impacted.”
With the narratives surrounding climate action and indigenous voice changing, and the broadening horizons within the science community, Aimee says, “The climate action movement will just get stronger and stronger, and in that we'll continue to be able to feed ourselves, practice mahinga kai, and still have that real connection back to home.”