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Nearly Finished: Thesis Submitted for Examination

Two days before the nationwide Aotearoa New Zealand covid-19 lockdown I handed in my PhD thesis for examination. It was an exhilarating experience in that I was finally at this stage of my doctoral research, but then an anti-climax at the same time. I couldn’t catchup with friends and family whom I’d ‘ignored’ for the past 12 months as I only co-habitated with my desk and laptop to complete the ‘write-up’. And I couldn’t go to the beach and finally get a summer I desired but, no, the lockdown stopped this so I just had to garden and attend to my vegetables and orchards (another goal of mine once handed in).

I am unsure of how my examination process will proceed. The advice I have to date (April 2020) is that examiners will be invited as usual and oral exams will be done online using Zoom or Skype. Any final submissions will also be electronically. So all I need to do now is…wait….wait….wait….six maybe seven months.


Ecosystem-based management is a management approach developed to address the unwarranted degradation crisis facing ecosystems such as coasts, harbours and estuaries.  Ecosystem-based management (EBM) remains primarily situated within Western-Eurocentric ontologies and epistemologies, employing language, understandings, and tools of science to define ecosystem challenges and (technical) solutions.  It is held up by practitioners and many Governments as an inclusive, holistic and localised (place) approach to managing ecosystems rather than a single species.  However, through a critical lens EBM upholds Eurocentric notions of nature where nature is reduced to a resource to dominate over, control and ascribe dollar value. This research believes EBM is worthy but what is lacking, particularly in settler-colonial nations such as Aotearoa, Australia, Canada and the United States, is that knowledge production should have more than a singular (objective) dimension but rather multi-dimensional of the metaphysical, spiritual and relations with nonhuman nature.  I used a critical Indigenous and ecofeminist analytical framework to explore this gap in knowledges informing EBM.  

This research pushes EBM attributes of inclusivity and (w)holism further to include the intangible (nonhuman) matter that matters to the lives of Indigenous peoples and cultures, women and those being ‘Other’ and different.  With EBM at risk of perpetuating the marginalisation of Indigenous peoples and those socially different in gender, ethnicity, class and sex in the equal access to resources and participation in management, this research provides a timely and novel approach to the discourse.  I argue (and suggest ways) that critical analysis of the role of knowledge and power at the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and nature across space and time help to problematise ecosystem challenges and use, understand strategies and restoration practices to be employed.  In doing so, social heterogeneous dynamics are (or should be) an integral part of EBM.  To privilege the relational and metaphysical aspects of Indigenous cultures, my methodological strategy required alternative modes and practices so that such aspects could be performed, storied, and written about. 

Developed in collaboration, the ‘Thinking with Kaipara’ methodological strategy contributes to this call to explore problems and solutions differently through the agency of place and the nonhuman, supported by the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and time.  The approach illuminates the richness and multiplicities of difference.  Nuanced human-nonhuman (co)stories of nature, spirituality, ecosystem degradation, and ourselves (as individuals, members of families, communities, and ecosystems) were shared and laid bare.  Through using this intersectional lens I examined sediment(ation) pollution. Findings revealed how pollution manifests differently across intimate (body, local) scales thereby demonstrating the far-reaching effects of settler-colonialism violence.  A relational vision of sediment(ation) is presented based on geo-creative narratives of four Māori women, who offered their lived experiences and realities of intimate sediment(ation) pollution geographies using methods familiar to and chosen by them.  The richness of these narratives enable nuanced and political stories of sediment(ation) to be recalled in relational and affective terms. Such knowledge is absent from dominant accounts of sediment(ation) pollution in ecosystem-based management discourse and practice.  

The implications of this, based on my research, is that marginalisation of social difference remains.  Moreover, normative colonising behaviours and norms of nature-culture relations continue.  Thinking with a relational ontology embraces multiple dimensions — affect, spirituality, wairua, ethics, justice — freeing EBM from the power and knowledge production structures of settler-colonialism.

Keywords:decolonisation, Indigenous Māori, gender, ecosystem-based management, storytelling, creative practice, nature-cultures, knowledge production, intersectionality, violence

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