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Waikato Academic Honoured For Thesis

22 November 2004

Waikato Academic Honoured For Thesis On Female Deities

The recently appointed dean of Waikato University’s School of Mâori and Pacific Development, Aroha Yates-Smith, will receive the Royal Society of New Zealand’s highly prestigious Te Rangi Hiroa Medal at a ceremony on the Ngati Mutunga marae in Urenui, South Taranaki this Saturday 27 November.

Te Rangi Hiroa, Sir Peter Buck, of Ngati Mutunga, was a pioneer New Zealand social scientist who qualified in medicine from Otago University in 1904, and this Saturday’s ceremony will also mark the 100th anniversary of his graduation.

Dr Yates-Smith won the 2003 Te Rangi Hiroa Medal for current issues in cultural diversity and cohesion for her doctoral thesis on atua wâhine, female Mâori deities, and the way the feminine in Mâori history has been marginalised by some.

Below is the text of an article on Dr Yates-Smith that will appear shortly in the university’s magazine Waikato:

Waikato magazine: What do you see as the positive forces operating within Mâori and Pacific communities now and in the future?

Aroha Yates-Smith: Just a few of the positive forces include strong family and community ties, a sense of the past connecting with the present and the responsibility for future generations felt by people today. For Mâori in particular, as the indigenous people of this country, the positive forces include te reo Mâori and the general maintenance and development of Mâori culture. There’s our role as kaitiaki – our guardianship relationship with the environment. Our spiritual connection with the land and sea influences how we interact with the environment and with each other. Also, Mâori are unique. This uniqueness is something to be developed and preserved in a global context.

W: What are some of the key negative aspects of contemporary life for Mâori and Pacific peoples in Aotearoa/NZ?

AYS: Mâori and Pacific peoples face different problems. Some of the common denominators are poverty and a lack of education. There’s a need for educational programmes which assist in improving student literacy and numeracy levels, and in retaining students at secondary and tertiary levels. Alienation from their iwi or island roots has inherent potential for creating a sense of dislocation and for identity problems to arise. All these factors have influenced, in various ways, the high rate of Mâori, and to a lesser extent, Pacific, people with problems in the area of welfare and health, including physical and mental health and alcohol, drug and substance abuse. A disproportionate percentage of our people are serving time in prison. Mâori and Pacific people also contend with prejudices. There’s a lack of understanding on the part of many New Zealanders of the facts and issues relating to Mâori and Pacific people. For Mâori , these Issues include the Mâori language, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the seabed and foreshore. Mâori and Pacific people are stereotypically labelled by many New Zealanders as easygoing or lazy. The negative portrayal by the media of Mâori and Pacific people has severely influenced, in a detrimental way, the general public’s attitude towards Mâori and Pacific people.

W: How do you see the School of Mâori and Pacific development assisting the positive forces you mention?

AYS: We are promoting the retention and use of te reo Mâori by teaching te reo from introductory through to postgraduate degree levels. Our Mâori courses enhance understanding of spiritual and cultural dimensions and matters, thereby increasing a sense of cultural identity. Staff and students at the School are also involved in community development and nation building amongst iwi. The Pacific component of our programmes is at an embryonic stage of development in the School. Our current focus is on increasing the visibility of the Pacific within the university as a whole through continued collaboration between the Schools and Faculty. We offer papers on the sustainability of Pacific communities within modern society; governance and capacity building; and, human resource development. Also, our staff provide community service and leadership in their areas of expertise, particularly at policy and advisory levels.

W: How can the School help in overcoming the negatives?

AYS: Our Mâori language and culture papers have received positive responses from students. Such positive experiences change stereotypical attitudes towards things Mâori, the history of this country, the Treaty of Waitangi and promote better understanding amongst New Zealanders of the plight of Mâori and our Pacific cousins. Generally, our contribution to Mâori and Pacific education will help in the development of Mâori society in Aotearoa and in Pacific Island communities. Enhancing people’s sense of being a Mäori or Pacific New Zealander helps reaffirm one’s indentity. We have a strong student mentoring system and we pursue academic excellence – both things that have positive influences on students’ families and communities. Our development studies courses assist student in formulating ways of advancing Mâori and developing community capacities.

W: What are your thoughts on the role of education generally in helping Mâori and Pacific peoples rise to the challenges they face?

AYS: Education is fundamental to the advancement of Mâori and Pacific people. However, the medium and mode of education needs to be one that is appropriate, and one in which the spiritual and cultural dimension of the people is intrinsically imbedded. The maintenance of cultural traditions through informal educational environments as found in the home or iwi and community fora is essential. I would like to see a greater commitment as a nation to ensuring the longevity of our indigenous language for the benefit of our future generations. The recent NCEA developments with such Pacific languages as the Cook Island and Tongan languages form a progressive step towards providing relevant and appropriate offerings for New Zealanders with Pacific origins, as well as diversifying the current language options available in secondary schools.

W: You’ve written that colonisation has resulted in the feminine role in Mâori history being marginalised. Today, however, we see Mâori women such as Tariana Turia playing prominent roles in political life. Do you think Mâori women have anything in particular to offer to the cause of Mâori development?

AYS: Throughout our history, Mâori women have provided leadership within their own whânau (families), hapû (subtribes) and iwi. In relatively recent times, the emergence of such entities as Te Rôpû Wâhine Mâori Toko i te ora, the Mâori Women’s Welfare League, in 1951, provided significant leadership in the domain of health and welfare, areas which required critical attention at the time.

The kôhanga reo and kura kaupapa Mâori movements were also predominantly spear-headed by Mâori women and this continues to be the case today. There are numerous Mâori women who have been noted in history for their political acumen and prowess.

It is, therefore, no surprise to me that such women as Tariana Turia and Georgina Te Heuheu represent our people at a parliamentary level. Through education, I foresee that more women will be placed in positions of leadership and will therefore make significant contributions to the development of our people and our nation.

I personally pay tribute to women, who at macro and micro levels of our society, lead our people. I recognise the sacrifices made by them and their whânau, and their dedication to the enhancement of our people’s lives at an individual, as well as at a national level.

Woman’s role as te ûkaipô (mother) ensures that our present and future generations are nurtured. I believe this is the fundamental principle which drives us to build positive futures for our progeny, tamariki (children), mokopuna (grandchildren).


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