Professor Ngahuia te Awekotuku MNZM has received the Pou Aronui Award from Royal Society Te Apārangi for her outstanding service to humanities-aronui.
She is an acclaimed author of award-winning research and works of fiction and poetry, recognised arts curator and critic, and stalwart of Writer’s Festivals locally and overseas.
The award selection committee noted that her original scholarship, sustained service to national organisations, and enduring commitment to indigenous culture and heritage have continuously pushed boundaries in the humanities-aronui.
She co-founded the Māori Writers and Artists Association in 1973, which became Ngā Puna Waihanga, then Toi Māori. For three years she chaired the Te Waka Toi Māori Arts Board of Creative New Zealand, heading national delegations to the Pacific Arts Festival in Samoa, and two meetings of the UN Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.
As a Curator at Waikato Museum in the 1980s she was at the vanguard of change, insisting that museums recontextualise their Western representations of Māori culture, in Aotearoa and overseas.
She also challenged conventions within the Māori world. Endorsed by Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, she directed a team of female descendants of the original builders in the restoration of the carved war canoe Te Winika. As a member of the Project Development Board, she helped to set up the Karanga Aotearoa Human Remains Repatriation project at Te Papa. She continues to advocate for the engagement of iwi with the museum sector, and has recently curated three successful exhibitions. She is a dedicated member of Te Paepae Tapu o Ngāti Whakaue.
In 1981 she became the first Māori woman to earn a doctorate from a New Zealand university. At the University of Auckland in the 1990s she developed and taught the first tertiary sector Māori and Pacific Art History programme from undergraduate to doctoral level. She helped to establish Women’s Studies as an academic discipline at Waikato and Auckland universities, and developed LGBT and Takatapui courses at Victoria University of Wellington, where she was appointed the country’s first Māori woman Professor. As Head of Māori and Pacific Studies she oversaw the emergence of Pacific Studies as an autonomous department.
Professor te Awekotuku has collaborated extensively with Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora. Their Marsden-funded project on Ta Moko produced the multiple award-winning book Mau Moko: The World of Maori Tattoo. Their other Marsden-funded project, supported by Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, explored Māori concepts of death.
Her public service has been extensive. She has served in roles with the Social Sciences Research Fund, Cultural Conservation Advisory Council, Antiquities Act Review Committee, National Art Gallery Council, New Zealand Film Archive Trust Board, Museum of New Zealand Project Development Board, Te Waka Toi Māori Arts Board and the Council of Creative New Zealand.
The Women’s Studies Association of Aotearoa New Zealand honoured her as the Inaugural Matriarch of Pae Akoranga Wahine in 2016, a lifelong position acknowledging 40+ years of feminist scholarship and community work. She was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2010.
On receiving the award, Professor te Awekotuku said: “I am so humbled and thrilled by this honour. I think of all the women who helped me along the way. My grandmother, my mother, my aunties, my ariki Te Atairangikaahu, my cousins, my baby sister Vicki, my partner Waimarie, my teachers, my creative and activist friends; I thank them all.
“Being a dreamer is never easy, and living or working with one can be hard; yet they encouraged and supported me. So my projects were their projects too; and I share this award gratefully with them.”
For distinguished service to the humanities-aronui.
To Ngahuia te Awekotuku for her outstanding academic and public services to humanities-aronui for over 40 years.