Distinguished Māori academic Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku has been named Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2010 New Year’s honours list. Her MNZM award is for services to Māori culture.
“I’m humbled and honoured by the award,” said Professor Te Awekotuku. “I was thinking very much of my mother and grandmother and all the women who nurtured me, and really special mentors like the late Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu, Dr Miria Simpson and Professor Jim Ritchie. In a way the MNZM is theirs too, because without their guidance, wisdom and faith in what I do I would never have got anywhere near where I am now.”
Professor Te Awekotuku works in the culture, arts and heritage sectors, and has served on various governance bodies, including Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of NZ, the NZ Film Archive and Creative NZ. She has been a governor of Creative NZ for the past nine years; this included chairing Te Waka Toi/Maori Arts Board for three years. She led two government delegations to the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva and also to cultural events in the Pacific region.
Professor Te Awekotuku has published extensively on heritage and social issues, and is co-author of Mau Moko: The World of Māori Tattoo which won the 2008 Montana Lifestyle & Contemporary Culture Award, and was last year voted the Māori Book of the Decade in the inaugural Nga Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards. She has also produced two works of fiction.
Professor Te Awekotuku is currently co-leading a unique project at the University of Waikato to examine tangihanga and the Māori experience of death, with funding worth $950,000 over three years from the Royal Society of New Zealand, and $250,000 from Nga Pae o te Maramatanga. The programme is based in Waikato’s School of Māori and Pacific Development and the Māori & Psychology Research Unit.
A passionate supporter of Māori rights, and an early leader in the lesbian/gay/transgender movement, Professor Te Awekotuku says the honour was completely unexpected. “So much of my activist behaviour and published fiction and scholarly works have been challenging and transgressive. I haven’t ever really been an accepting, compliant person; I’ve always questioned and probed and agitated. But as I’ve grown up, my agitating has been more mellow – and probably more effective.”