Carrie Clifford is conducting comparative research surrounding mental health and child development in Native American and Maori communities. She is using her Project Support award to fund trips to Native American communities in Colorado as well as to provide access to materials for an intensive course on American Indian history and health at Johns Hopkins University. Upon her return to New Zealand, Carrie plans to complete her PhD in Clinical Psychology in order to work to improve the mental health of Maori natives in Aotearoa.
Our 2018 award went to Tess McClure to help support her as she earns her Master’s degree at Columbia’s School of Journalism. An investigative journalist herself, she focused on human and labor rights in supply chains, a relatively new subject in investigative journalism.
This year’s Winks Award went to Patricia Tupou, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. As a member of the Tongan community, Patricia is interested in how Indigenous narratives about the environment shape discourse about climate change and influence resource management and sovereignty movements. She believes that including indigenous perspectives in the global conversation about climate change will help facilitate the implementation of meaningful political action. Funds from the Roth Foundation will help Patricia travel between the eight islands that make up Hawai’i, allowing her to conduct field research with a diverse range of Indigenous communities and better understand broader regional narratives about the environment. Her future plans include entering politics as an advocate for the Pacific diaspora community in New Zealand and as a proponent for more effective climate change policies.
The 2016 Winks Award was granted to Ana Montgomery-Neutze, who is earning a Master’s degree in Social Documentary Film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. After completing her studies, Ana aspires to be a New Zealand based documentary filmmaker, focusing on capturing the stories of the Māori, specifically those of her own iwi (tribe), Muaūpoko. Ana hopes that her filmmaking skills combined with her access to and deep cultural understanding of indigenous groups in New Zealand will enable her to tell their stories in a wholly unique and intimate way, reclaiming and preserving important aspects of their identity for future generations.
Bonnie Scarth spent the 2015-16 academic year working in the Anthropology Department at Cornell University, pursuing a comparative research project on the subjective meanings, lived experiences, and potential transformations of trauma among women diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the U.S. and New Zealand. With a background in family violence and sexual assault prevention, Scarth explored the impact of applying a medical diagnosis to someone who has experienced violence, and investigated the role of the medical and justice systems in contributing to or complicating the potential for transformation of lived experience.
This eleventh of twelve portraits in 2017, honoring alumni from thirty years of Roth Foundation programs, features New Zealand medical anthropologist Bonnie Scarth, currently wrapping up her dissertation at the University of Otago. In 2015-16, a Robin and April Winks Award from the Roth Foundation helped her cover expenses for a year at Cornell University, where she added a cross-cultural dimension to her research on the personal and policy repercussions for trauma survivors.
When I started my university studies, I was in my early 20s and had two young children. I was fortunate to get interesting part-time jobs, most often short-term contracts that would fit around parenting and studies. In these jobs, I dealt with a wide variety of issues, from interviewing cancer patients, to promoting sexualhealth, and coordinating family violence prevention. The research for my dissertation—Perceptions of Suffering and Suicide: Implications for Policy and Practice—grew out of many of these experiences, and then evolved further during my fieldwork, as happens with ethnography, given its open-ended, interactive methods. Launching into my year at Cornell, I was very grateful to receive the Roth Foundation’s Winks Award, which allowed me to buy me some excellent ethnographic methods books and other useful fieldwork tools.
As participant-observation, in Ithaca I volunteered at a crisis centre, where I worked with trauma survivors, among other things. I also gathered narratives through long, rich, unstructured interviews—in which the participant takes the lead and creates their narrative as they see fit, rather than having the researcher define what is important and structure the narrative. This methodology is especially helpful with sensitive topics. Trauma and suffering were the broad focus of the interviews, as well as how these experiences were integrated into people’s lives and the lives of those around them. The process of medicalization can be disempowering, as many medical anthropologists have noted; it’s important to remember that trauma survivors also have agency and make meaning from their experience on their own terms.
The concept of validating mental suffering was raised in a surprising way during my training at the crisis center. We were focusing on how to fight stigma, watching educational videos showing how unreasonable it would be if we treated physical ailments the way we treat mental illness. We then turned to a discussion of physician assisted suicide/euthanasia (PAS/E): did we agree that where PAS/E is available for people with non-terminal physical illness and “unbearable suffering” (the term used in the law), then by rights it should also be available for people with mental suffering (as it is in the Netherlands and Belgium)? This hugely controversial issue, which raises many questions about what “unbearable suffering” is, provided an important additional lens for understanding the concepts of suffering, medicalization, and the wish to die.
The majority of my US participants had suffered some kind of significant trauma in their life, including sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse. Ten had survived suicide attempts—often multiple attempts—since a young age. The majority had experienced suicidal ideation at least once, but for many it was an ongoing issue, and several participants had also suffered a close bereavement by suicide. A couple of participants were key informants who worked in suicide prevention. NZ has the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD, despite not having such easy access to firearms as in the U.S.; so it was interesting for me to hear about successful youth suicide prevention strategies in parts of the U.S.
My New Zealand fieldwork has had a somewhat similar participant group, in terms of survivors and experts; but, building on my time in the U.S., I now include questions relating to PAS/E laws and “unbearable suffering.” As in the U.S., in NZ discrimination and stigma are still described as a significant issue with regard to mental illness, trauma, and suicidality. Medicalization is also often seen as the solution… as if medicalizing something—giving it a scientific and biological explanation—will make it “real” and legitimate.” On the contrary, the things that people cite as helping them heal from significant trauma and suicidality often fall outside of medical and mental health services. A theme that arose repeatedly in both sets of interviews was that many participants felt like their suffering was heavily discriminated against and stigmatized in a way that other forms of suffering are not and that physical illness/suffering is validated in a way that mental suffering/illness is not. As one person put it: “We need to treat this (mental illness or suicidal ideation) just like we would cancer!”
But the most important insight shared by participants is that healing is not a straightforward journey. Many participants felt frustrated that they didn’t just one day “recover” from trauma and it was over; and a number said people get frustrated with them for not just “getting over it” and “moving on.” But, as described by participants, recovery is more like a gradual unravelling and un-layering process, followed by re-building, preferably on their own terms. And this takes time. It is not safe or possible to speed it up.
Suffering is subjective, impacted not just by a person’s internal self, but by multiple unique elements surrounding the person: culture, environment, support systems available at the time, whether or not they were believed and supported, among so many other factors. Basically, survivors of trauma want to be included in the community and respected like everyone else—truly heard and validated… and then allowed to have some autonomy over what constitutes healing for them personally. This might seem obvious, but as people’s narratives show, it is not that easy to come by.
For me, it has been such a privilege to have so many people share some of the most difficult topics with me—and to work toward a better understanding of how to help people get what they need. I’m really grateful to the Lois Roth Foundation for helping me undertake this research journey.
This text evolved from correspondence between Bonnie Scarth and Skyler Arndt-Briggs. Thanks to Drew Barnhart, our Media and Outreach Manager, for producing our November Portrait.
New Zealander Georgie Archibald has begun her two-year Master’s program in English at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she plans to focus her research on the effects of digital media on reading and writing practices. Her award will help offset the cost of books and software necessary for her project.
Ani Alana Kainamu
The Winks Award winner for 2013 was Ani Alana Kainamu, who proposed to compare the natural resource management of customary fisheries in New Zealand and Hawaii. She planned to assess contaminant levels of trace metals and microbiological elements in ecologically significant and culturally important species of fish in two key estuaries. Her methodology integrates scientific and cultural approaches to understand how anthropogenic inputs and environmental factors affect the quality of food resources. In particular, she refers to the holistic “mountain to sea” traditions of the Ngai Tahu tribe of New Zealand’s South Island and of the native Hawaiian Kanaka Maoli to inform her analytic approach. Kainamu’s study will thus contribute to both national resource management in the Pacific, and current studies of indigenous Pacific peoples.
This fifth of twelve portraits in 2017, honoring alumni from thirty years of Roth Foundation programs, features Ani Kainamu Murchie. Ani received the Robin and Avril Winks Award in 2013; unlike our other Project Support awards, which go to Americans going overseas, this one goes to a New Zealand Fulbrighter coming to study and/or do research in the United States. In her portrait, Ani explains the cultural roots of her ecological work.
To introduce myself, I am from Aotearoa New Zealand and I was educated in “kura Māori”—which is schooling taught in the Māori language. Māori are the Indigenous people of Aotearoa; this type of schooling was established by the leadership of parents and grandparents to revitalise our culture. Attending both kura Māori and English schooling gave me insight into multiple ways of knowing—that is, into both Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge.
I have been interested in natural systems since I was a kid, as our diverse environment shapes our culture. My dissertation research at the University of Canterbury and Hawai`i Pacific University focussed on the sociocultural- and science-based values and indicators of estuarine shellfish in NZ and Hawai`i. The study looked at food safety, shellfish health, shellfish population abundance (and changes), land-use, and management effectiveness. Shellfish are utilised across the world as scientific indicators of environmental condition. Indigenous and Traditional ecological knowledge inherently involves indicators of environmental conditions, which have guided sustainable management of natural resources. Both knowledge systems are important and guide management best when utilised in parallel with each other, so it is important to address and protect both sociocultural and ecological values in legislation.
In developing my project, I was guided by the indigenous environmental philosophies ki uta ki tai and ma uka ma kai, meaning “mountain to sea,” in Māori and Kanaka Maoli, respectively. This is a holistic concept of environmental management that includes an integrated ecosystem approach, and challenges our contemporary compartmentalised approach. An example of this approach is the aquatic fisheries systems (loko i`a/fishpond) on O`ahu Island, Hawai`i. These systems were designed by Kanaka to work with the environment by enhancing brackish conditions for herbivorous fish and shellfish. They are fundamentally part of the ma uka ma kai integrated ecological system—from the streams upland, to the terraced wetlands, to the loko i`a, and then the coast and sea.
The support I received from the Lois Roth Foundation enabled me to assess trace metal contamination—a very important indicator of environmental health. Shellfish in waterways are active filter-feeders, providing sediment stability, food for people and other organisms (such as birds), and cultural-ecological interaction. Trace metals can negatively impact shellfish species and hence also disrupt the important ecosystem services they provide within brackish estuary systems. My study showed that in watersheds using more natural land-use and practices, the shellfish were “healthy” and safe to consume.
I completed my doctorate last month and am very excited to have been awarded a post-doctoral position as an Environmental Scientist in the Te Kūwaha team (National Centre of Māori Environmental Research) at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). One research program I will be involved in—called “Ngā Kete o Te Wānanga: Mātauranga Māori, Science and Freshwater Management”—is investigating how to bring multiple knowledge systems together to improve our decision-making in freshwater environments. The project works at culturally-defined spatial scales—from upland streams to estuary “sinks”—to investigate how to best protect and support the socio-cultural values, uses, and opportunities associated with our waterways.
Studies in administrative and constitutional law, towards earning a Master of Law degree at New York University Law School. Latu is interested in developing new legal structures to use in awarding and evaluating government contracts with private entities.
Studies towards a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvrd University’s Kennedy School of Government. Dhar, a young Indian-New Zealander, is the creator of the P3 (Peace, Prosperity and Progress) Foundation, an NGO that mobilizes young people across the Asia Pacific region to break out of poverty.
Studies in Visual Culture at New York University, focusing on costume studies and textile conversation, culminating in a Master’s degree. After her return to Auckland in 2010, she developed an exhibition of works drawing on her US experience and toured the North Island to visit weavers and their communities.
Studies on indigenous rights and treaty issues, leading to a Master’s degree in anthropology at Columbia University. Steele then became Second Secretary in New Zealand’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
Studies on traditional New Zealand woven cloaks at New York University, culminating in a Master’s degree in Museum Studies focusing on cultural heritage. After earning her MA, White returned to New Zealand to work as an Exhibition Developer at the Auckland Museum.
*The Prix Coindreau Prize, The Jeanne Varnay Pleasants Prize for Language Teaching, and the CASVA-Henry & Judith Millon Award are currently inactive.