Dr Rebecca Wirihana, Dr Ruakere Hond and Dr Acushla Dee O’Carroll

Māori research focus by Taranaki scholars

Three top Massey University scholars from Taranaki graduated with doctoral degrees this week, with theses on Māori women leaders, social media and Māori culture; and links between Māori language revitalisation and welbeing.

The trio were among seven Māori doctoral graduates who celebrated at a ceremony for more than 50 Māori students who had all graduated at Massey’s Manawatū campus  ceremonies for business, sciences, humanities and social sciences, creative arts and health throughout the week.

Two of the graduates Dr Acushla Dee O’Carroll (Ngaruahine Rangi, Ngāti Ruanui and Te Āti Awa) and Dr Ruakere Hond (Taranaki/Ngāti Ruanui/Te Whānau-a-Apanui), will share insights from their research on social media, and language and health at a forum at Parihaka this Saturday.

Dr O’Carroll’s research looks at the tensions that Māori face as they navigate virtual spaces and social media alongside the pressures for face-to-face communication. Within Māori cultural tradition, said Dr O’Carroll, there is a strong belief and practice that relationships among people flourish and rely on kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) interactions. Historically, communication technologies have given Māori new tools and methods to practise culture, without necessarily having to be kanohi ki te kanohi.

“Pressures of employment, education, financial and family contexts have become main drivers for Māori to leave their haukāinga,” she says.

“Responsibilities to return home to participate in cultural, social and political activities of the marae have meant that Māori living away need alternative methods to contribute back to the haukāinga.

“The Internet and social networking sites (SNS) are enabling Māori from all over the world to connect and engage in meaningful relationships with friends, family and communities as well as practise aspects of Māori culture. Interactions based on cultural practices have heralded a new era of the 'virtual marae' where language, customs and whanaungatanga are practised daily.”

Her three-year PhD study centred on how social networking sites affect Māori culture. She interviewed Māori youth, conducted iwi case studies (one based in South Taranaki, the other based in London) and surveyed 139 Māori living overseas for more than 12 months. What she discovered was that Facebook and Skype are key for modern Māori to maintain and strengthen traditional relationships.

Dr O’Carroll continued her research into how indigenous communities use social networking sites, thanks to being awarded a prestigious 2013 Fulbright-Harkness New Zealand Fellowship for her outstanding record of achievement and leadership.

It was the second time she won a Fulbright award that took her back to Hawaii. In 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright Travel award to present her research findings at an international conference in the Aloha state. This time, she will return to Hawaii as well as Washington State.

Dr Hond’s researched focused on language revitalisation and its impact on wellbeing. Dr Hond is a long-time kaiako (teacher) with Te Ataarangi, a Māori language learning system developed 30 years ago, and is a prominent member of Te Reo o Taranaki Charitable Trust. He was instrumental in developing the trust's Māori language revitalisation strategy and online initiative. He has a Master of Arts from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiarangi and is a board member of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission).

Dr Rebecca Wirihana (Te Aupouri/Te Rarawa/Ngā Rāuru Kitahi), examined the lives and experiences of 13 Māori women leaders, including Māori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, to determine what contributed to their leadership roles.

Dr Wirihana, who is from Waverly, says the women she interviewed understood early in life they could achieve whatever they set out to do. “They did this knowing that their communities had faith in their ability to meet their needs.”

She hopes her research will inspire future Māori women leaders, and that the stories will be published in a book. Dr Wirihana is currently working for Te Atawhai O Te Ao: Independent Māori Research Institute for Environment and Health, and is working on several Taranaki projects on prison and sexual violence.


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