Rangihurihia McDonald 1

Rangihurihia McDonald

Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Doctor of Philosophy

Rangihurihia McDonald 1

Dr Rangihurihia McDonald (Ngāti Maniapoto) graduated from the University of Waikato with her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Māori and Indigenous Studies in October 2023.

It was a special moment for the University Library’s Pou Ārahi (Cultural Lead) who, as an 18-year-old from Waitomo, never thought university life was for her.

Since then, she has not only completed a bachelor’s, master's and now PhD degree, but has contributed to important MBIE-funded research and led transformative change in the library.

“The common thread on all the work I do is around te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori,” says Hurihia, who began working in the library in October 2022.

Climate change's negative impact on the ocean

Her PhD thesis, supervised by Dr Haki Tuaupiki, looked at the impact of climate change on the ocean from the perspective of contemporary waka voyagers.

It was part of a five-year Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) funded project called the Moana Project, involving 54 experts from 14 national and international organisations.

Hurihia contributed to the ‘He Papa Moana’ component of the project, led by Waikato Professor Maui Hudson.

For her research, she interviewed seven navigators trained in traditional ocean navigation, some with 30 years’ experience, and asked them to share their observations and perspectives on climate change impacts.

“The big notable one that they all talked about was cyclones,” says Hurihia.

"Global warming is raising the temperatures of the ocean, which fuels cyclonic activity. Where cyclones previously ran out of steam in the Southern Ocean, we are now getting an increased frequency and intensity of cyclones in our oceans further south. This is the biggest threat to voyaging."

The research also revealed observed decline of marine species relied on for navigation – including whales, dolphins, fish and migratory birds.

“This decline is not solely due to climate change, but a whole range of human activities such as overfishing and pollution, but it is concerning.”

Journey to university

Hurihia was the first in her whānau to come to university. As a 14-year-old high school student at Ōtorohanga College, she started working at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, and didn’t imagine a different career for herself outside tourism or farming.

“I could have been very happy working there for the rest of my days.”

Her father, Tim, had other ideas and, when she was still working at the iSite the February after high school had finished, he asked her what her plans were for the year.

“I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll just keep going to work like usual.’

“He said, ‘get in the car, we are going to go to the University’,” recalls Hurihia.

“He saw something in me that perhaps I didn’t see in myself.”

It was on that first day visiting the Hamilton campus that Hurihia and her father bumped into Dr Tuaupiki, a relative and longstanding mentor of Hurihia’s from their waka trust in Kāwhia.

“It was really important that I saw him that day because he was a familiar face, and it made me think that University was a place I could feel at home in. He encouraged me to enrol, and made it a more welcoming process.”

At the time, the four-storey library seemed huge, and the campus seemed like a small town. Later, it would be where she would work, making a significant contribution to transforming the culture of the University.

Supportive environment 

She enrolled in the Certificate of University Preparation (CUP) programme to help her transition to tertiary study, as she was a few credits short of University Entrance.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t have the skills, I just hadn’t prepared in high school as never thought university was for me. CUP was a good introduction. I made good connections with other students – we all supported each other.”

She went on to get her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with first class honours in Te Reo Māori, a Master of Arts with first class honours in Tikanga Māori, followed by a PhD in Māori and Indigenous Studies.

They were subjects I was really passionate about and enjoyed.

She credits the support she received from the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, and Dr Tuaupiki in particular, who encouraged her each step of the way.

“It’s because of him I did my master’s and PhD – he mentored me through my academic journey.”

Leading change at the library

Hurihia has been working as Pou Ārahi at the University library since October 2022, working closely with various teams.

“In my role, I lead the library’s commitment to biculturalism and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, embedding mātauranga Māori into library processes and services. I am also leading our work on the Te Aurei objectives including the University's goal to become an anti-racist institution.”

The enthusiasm staff have shown for developing their knowledge in te reo Māori and tikanga Māori has impressed Hurihia.

“The staff are really keen,” says Hurihia, acknowledging the passion and mahi already underway before she started by library management and colleagues. “As soon as I got here, people asked if we could do regular waiata practices, and asked if I could teach them a mihi if they were speaking at a conference. So, they were really hungry [for knowledge] and it was really encouraging to see that.”

“I really enjoy the space and the people – the people here [at the University library] are just great!”

She spoke about her work on Kīngitanga Day to University staff and students.

"Mātauranga Māori is my superpower. Twenty years ago, people thought te reo Māori would get you nowhere, but it’s the edge I have, and it is valued more now.”

She encourages others to use their knowledge, skills and connections to change systems that disadvantage others and to strive to make the world a better place, with less inequity.

“I like being the one breaking barriers, that makes me quite proud.”

Rangihurihia McDonald 1

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