Waikato Uni bestows posthumous honorary doctorate

29 June 2009
A Gisborne woman who died last year is to be acknowledged on July 1 with an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato.

Heni Materoa Sunderland, kaumatua and Maori leader, will be honoured for her life-long commitment to education and her service to the community and at a national level. Family members will accept the honorary doctorate on behalf of Mrs Sunderland who died last July aged 92.

Mrs Sunderland was a founding kaumatua of Te Runanga o Turanganui-a-Kiwa - the Gisborne iwi authority. In 1991 she received a QSM for her services to the community and was a key witness in the 2000 cervical screening inquiry. Two years later she was a key witness for the Treaty of Waitangi Turanganui-a-Kiwa claims.

She was an advocate for Maori rights and justice and was a leading educationalist of the traditions and customs of the iwi of Turanganui-a-Kiwa. She founded the region's first Kohanga Reo, was heavily involved in the Maori Affairs Department and the Maori Women's Welfare League and was involved with the council and museum, among many other things.

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford says Mrs Sunderland embodied much that is important at Waikato. "She was keen on the presence of her iwi at Waikato University and supported this by maintaining relationships with key Maori staff, providing a tangible connection between these staff and the Gisborne region.”

Prof Crawford says Mrs Sunderland mentored students and academics on matters such as Maori spiritual beliefs, history, geography, Maori science and agriculture. "She was a leading Maori historian, and scholar on cultural, social and historical information, and her input was sought by many prominent New Zealand historians."

An honorary doctorate degree can be awarded to a person who has been of outstanding service to the nation through activities consistent with the University of Waikato's charter, vision and strategic goals. It must be approved by the University Council, which is headed by former Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jim Bolger. Previous honorary doctorates have included the likes of Diggeress Te Kanawa, Sir Doug Graham and Sir Howard Morrison.

Mrs Sunderland's posthumous honorary doctorate will be bestowed on Wednesday July 1 at the Whakato Marae in Manutuke near Gisborne.