Author and activist Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku MNZM has been given the title of Emeritus Professor by the University of Waikato.
Professor Te Awekotuku became the first Māori woman to earn a PhD in Aotearoa in 1981, also from the University of Waikato. Her research and activism focuses on tikanga Māori, ethics and methodologies in indigenous research, Māori and indigenous notions of gender and sexuality, power, racism, cultural heritage, death and ritual, intellectual/cultural property, and spirituality and creative expression.
The title of Emeritus Professor is the latest honour conferred on Professor Te Awekotuku for her work as activist-academic, author, and arts curator and critic. Mau Moko: The World of Māori Tattoo, which she co-authored with Linda Waimarie Nikora, won the 2008 Montana Lifestyle & Contemporary Culture Award, and in 2009 was voted the Māori Book of the Decade in the inaugural Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards. In 2010 Professor Te Awekotuku was named named Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in honour of her services to Māori culture. In 2017 she received the Royal Society Te Apārangi's Pou Aronui Award for her outstanding service to humanities-aronui over 40 years, showing an enduring commitment to indigenous culture and heritage.
On 4 May 2018 she spoke to Te Manu Korihi reporter Shannon Haunui-Thompson for Radio New Zealand about being named Emeritus Professor. "I could never have reached this point without so many people who loved and supported and embraced and guided me. It's an honour that I share with them," she said.
When asked if she found it hard being a Māori wahine academic, Professor Te Awekotuku had this to say:
"It used to be really, really challenging. For many years when I was working at Auckland University, and then when I was at Victoria in Wellington, I was the only Māori female on the stage in the staff cohort for graduations. When I first got my doctorate in 1981, my beloved mentor Ngapare Hopa was the only other Māori woman with a PhD in the whole world, and she was in California working in the university system there, so for a while it was just me. That was lonely. That was ... not happy times, in many ways. But I think that for all women academics, it has been difficult, but for Māori particularly so because not only do we have to work twice as hard, but we also have to get over a whole lot of stuff like our need to advance our men, our need to support and encourage and elevate and uplift and ensure that they get there too. Whether or not it's a cultural situation or whatever it may be, I think that may well be one of our own unique problems, both for us and for Pacific women as well. The other point is that with being Māori and female in the academy, until very recently, apart from Ngapare, there were no role models. We didn't have people we could look up to and admire and emulate. Certainly there were outstanding leaders in politics, in social justice, and to a lesser extent in other professions like medicine and the law. But in the academy, we really were a very rare breed. However, now I think there is an increasing number of us."