Graduate Stories: Mona-Lisa Wareka

We introduce the next instalment of our Graduate Stories with Mona-Lisa Wareka. Mona-Lisa (nō Ngātiwai me Rereahu) completed her Bachelor of Social Sciences last year majoring in anthropology. This year she decided to undertake her Master’s at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato under the supervision of Dr Fiona McCormack.

Tell us about yourself

Mona-Lisa Wareka

Mona-Lisa Wareka

Ko Huruiki te maunga,
Ko Mokau te awa,
Ko Mokau te marae,
Ko Ngātiwai rāua ko Rereahu ngā iwi,
Ko Te Uri o Hikhiki te hapū,
I te taha o tōku pāpā, huri no ki Whangaruru me Rereahu,
I te taha o tōku māmā no Ateria hoki,
Ko Whangārei tōku papakāinga,
Ko Mona-Lisa Wareka tōku ingoa.

I completed my BSocSc last year in July, and have since been taking honours papers, and began my thesis in February this year. Throughout my years at uni, I have been a tutor for first year anthropology papers, a research assistant under Dr Fiona McCormack, and an academic coordinator for Student Village. Studies aside, I’m interested in philosophy, religion and spirituality, and just learning in general! I’m particularly interested in wairuatanga and rongoā, and have recently began practicing maramataka as a way of reconnecting to my Māori roots, and understanding Te Ao Māori.

What drew you to anthropology?

From the first anthropology paper I took in first year, I fell in love with the discipline. From the beginning I saw that anthropology saw the beauty in diversity and viewed the world from a holistic and open-minded perspective. It wasn’t until I took honours-level papers that I discovered an interest for environmental anthropology, particularly being interested in indigenous environmental knowledge, relations and experiences.

What are you working on?

My thesis, Te Ao Māori in environmental relations and conservation through an ethic of kaitiaki, aims to address the importance of indigenous environmental knowledge in the current environmental crisis and conservation efforts. This will draw on Te Ao Māori worldviews of the natural world, primarily examining the principle and practices of kaitiaki and kaitiakitanga. Through this research, I attempt to illustrate human and non-human relations, spiritual connections and contemporary conservation and resource management through a Te Ao Māori lens. For this project, I have looked to Matapōuri Bay (Ngātiwai) as an ethnographic example of implementing their role as kaitiaki, observing the recent rāhui placed on Te Wai o te Taniwha, or popularly known as the Mermaid Pools.

How have you found life as a graduate student?

To be honest, it’s definitely been a lonely journey! You don’t realise until you’re focused on your kaupapa that it’s actually really hard to talk with other people about it, because it just becomes such a huge part of your everyday life and thinking, you just retract into your own little bubble. But that aside, I am so in love with my research topic! It’s a topic that is close to my heart, and personal experiences throughout my life have influenced my foundational thinking in this rangahau. I’m so grateful for the support I have around me during this journey, it definitely has kept me grounded throughout!

What are your current influences?

I find myself looking up to manawāhine such as Leonie Pihama, Linda Smith, Merata Kawharu, Margaret Mutu and Angeline Greensill, as motivation for promoting Māoritanga within academia and anthropology. Fiona McCormack, Paige West and Carlos Mondragón are scholars that have influenced my interest in environmental anthropology, but it has been my recent interest in maramataka, planting and Sir David Attenborough’s One Planet that I have come to understand and become passionate about the environment. Finally, the revitalization of Māori and indigenous knowledge is on the rise and it is a time for young indigenous scholars to get amongst it and promote the mana and sovereignty of our peoples.


Graduate Stories is curated by ASAA/NZ Postgraduate Representative Jacinta Forde. If you would like to share your graduate story with us - or you know of some interesting research being done by a graduate student - please get in touch.