By Rosemary Rangitauira 19/11/2020

Fiona Wiremu (Ngāi Tūhoe | Ngāti Ranginui) is driven to do all she can to enhance the lives of tāngata whenua and that’s evident in the multiple research areas she covers.

These include mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) such as te reo Māori, culture and identity, Whai Rawa (Māori Economies), Te Taiao (Natural Environment), Mauri Ora (Human Flourishing and Wellbeing) and Māori community self-development initiatives.

“I love my whānau and it’s because of them I do what I do. I want them to be well and to exercise equal rights like other New Zealanders, and for those same values to be experienced by all Māori.”

Fiona is an executive director at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi where she teaches Indigenous Business and is the chair of two kaupapa Māori hauora / health entities; Te Puna Ora o Mataatua and Med Central (Whakatāne medical practice).

She’s currently involved in two research papers that are due to be completed at the end of this year and published in 2021:

  • a project, that explores the relationship between Māori and control of diminishing kai systems called He moumou kai, he moumou tāngata: Enhancing culturally matched outcomes – Kai governance, kai sovereignty and the (re)production of kai; and
  • a project called Persisting inequalities and the potential for intervention through “new” governance models.

She says kairangahau (researchers) like Distinguished Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Tā Hirini Moko Mead inspired her to pursue a research career.

“For many Māori researchers, they created a platform and space for Māori led narratives to be academically evidenced and validated the view that mātauranga Māori is valuable to Research. They proved that Māori led research was valuable to all of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and across Indigenous spaces – and now it is being more widely recognised and sought after within mainstream research. They were pivotal in the creation of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga as one example of their commitment and dedication to Māori research.”

Fiona also pays her respects to Tā Hirini Moko Mead.

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi is a manifestation of his vision that supports Māori education and research. What they (Tā Hirini Moko Mead, Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith) gave me was their time, experience, skills and an abundance of awhi (support) – I can only seek to emulate the taonga they have given to me and pass that onto others.”

Fiona is a supervisor for Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.

“Over these past three years, I’ve been investing more time in supporting emerging researchers. The taonga that were passed on to me, I am passing them forward as a supervisor for Ngā Pae to help create more Māori researchers and provide them with awhi (support) and to promote their own research potential. They don’t have access to the opportunities in mainstream to be part of research projects because not all emerging researchers have obtained a doctorate or have prolific research.”

Fiona doesn’t hold a doctorate and values the path she’s taken with support from many Māori scholars and Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.

She’s passing on those values to her students like Courtney Sullivan who was part of last year’s Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Summer Intern Programme and worked with Fiona on the study, He moumou kai, he moumou tāngata: Enhancing culturally matched outcomes – Kai governance, kai sovereignty, and the (re)production of kai.

Fiona is a primary investigator of the Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga study which describes a state where our existence and futures as healthy Māori people (Mauri Ora: Human Flourishing) are put at risk because our kai sources (Te Taiao: The Natural Environment) are diminishing.

“Kai sources include access to kai, growing kai, preparing kai, the lore/law pertaining to kai, and control of kai systems (Whai Rawa: Māori Economies) which are diminishing. Without kai or wai Māori (water), people will perish!”

The research, expected to be published in 2021, aims to develop a collective framework and enable Māori to protect and reclaim control over kai.
Another project Fiona worked on was part of the Sustainable Seas, National Science Challenge titled Kaitiaki centred business models case studies of Māori marine-based enterprises in Aotearoa.

As part of the project, she had been looking at an aquaculture and fisheries kaupapa in the Eastern Bay of Plenty in which mātauranga Māori could be harnessed to deliver a sustainable Māori marine economy, which she says is more than an economic venture.

“The project intended to build their social, cultural and environmental priorities for the people and create wellbeing,” she says.

“What emerged from talking to Whakatōhea and Ōpōtiki participants was that they are trying to create an aquacultural industry that would revitalise their town, create more jobs and improve the living conditions for the predominantly Māori constituency. As a result of this, create better social and health outcomes for their people”.

Bonus read

Fiona Wiremu was also an author on the 2017 report, Tairāwhiti Māori Economic Development Report: Critical analysis and strategic options.

It provides insights into economic opportunities for Māori, whānau, hapū and iwi in the Tairāwhiti region. Prepared by Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, it was mandated by 11 iwi and Māori businesses and proposed what an economically thriving East Coast could look like by 2040.

You can read the report here.