By Katherine Hurst 19/11/2020


Every year Royal Society Te Apārangi celebrates the achievements of researchers, scholars, and kairangahau who have achieved excellence in their disciplines throughout Aotearoa. This year separate ceremonies were held in the three main centres.

In the first of two posts, we highlight the Māori and Pasifika recipients from the Auckland and Christchurch ceremonies.

Callaghan Medal – Professor Rangi Mātamua

The 2020 Callaghan Medal was given to Professor Rangi Mātamua (Tūhoe) for his science communication work in Māori astronomy. The award recognised Rangi’s outstanding contribution to science communication, and his proven ability to raise awareness of the value of science and technology to human progress.

Rangi’s family have connections with the Royal Society Te Apārangi going back to the late 1800s. His ancestor Te Kōkau Himiona Te Pikikōtuku collected and recorded vast amounts of Māori astronomical knowledge which was then handed down to Rangi. Rangi spoke about receiving this inheritance when interviewed on Sciblogs.

“On his deathbed my grandfather said to me, ‘Look, the book: I don’t want you to let the book go. It is sacred. Hold onto the book. But the knowledge in the book… Knowledge that isn’t shared, isn’t knowledge: it’s dust. So you need to find a way to get that knowledge out to the world’.”

Rangi has taken that message to heart. In 2019 more than 10000 attended Rangi’s two-hour talks in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia as part of the Royal Society Te Apārangi series Ko Matariki e ārau ana. His best-selling book Matariki: The Star of the Year is available in both English and te reo Māori, and he has a prominent online presence with almost 30,000 followers. His work has also featured in TV shows, a museum exhibition, and many other public lectures and publications.

He received the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize for his work communicating Māori astronomy and raising awareness about the significance of Matariki – which is now scheduled to become a public holiday in 2022.

Rangi told Stuff that he failed fourth form science. “I just couldn’t make a connection to science until much later on when I started to realise there are empirical sciences embedded within our traditional knowledge bases.”

Through Rangi’s work in science communication, he is able to share this realisation. He uses his knowledge of Māori astronomy to better understand how ancestors navigated the Pacific Ocean and were able to live so successfully in Aotearoa, and has also shown how their scientific knowledge became part of the culture through stories and customs.

Rangi is currently Professor in Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao – the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato. His approach to Mātauranga Māori and western science is inspiring to many, particularly young Māori and Pasifika. He says, ““It’s looking back to understand a pathway forward. I think people are starting to desire a new way of understanding the world, including science.”

Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanities – Ngarino Ellis

Associate Professor Ngarino Ellis (Ngāpuhi/Ngāti Porou) from the University of Auckland is one of very few Māori art historians in Aotearoa. She received the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanities for her multiple award-winning first book Whakapapa of Tradition: One Hundred Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830-1930. Her book can be appreciated both as an art history that expands the discipline, and a visual record of carvings from the Iwirākau School.

Ngarino was inspired by her art history Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, and is now inspiring her own students. She received the 2019 Ako Aotearoa Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching in a Kaupapa Māori Context Award for her innovative teaching and commitment to supporting students in culturally-appropriate ways.

“Every academic needs to work for Māori student success and actively engage with expectations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but the responsibility is keenly felt by Māori academics. The presence of Māori academic role models and courses with significant Māori content is critical to Māori student success.”

Ngarino uses Kaupapa Māori principles in all her work, and refers to other Indigenous understandings such as the importance of ancestral wisdom, the place of art and artists in the community, and the value of women’s voices.

She is widely published and has developed a strong reputation as an art historian both nationally and internationally, and also shares her findings with local Māori communities. Ngarino also appears in the media, commenting on the overseas selling of taonga, or speaking about her mission to change the discipline of art history.

Ngarino is already working on her next project Ngā Taonga o Wharawhara: The World of Māori Body Adornment, which was awarded a Marsden Fund grant. On receiving her Early Career Research Excellence Award she said:

“I look forward to the global outreach of Māori art history, where my students become my colleagues, and together we shape a world in which our taonga are connected once more and are revitalised as much as they revitalise us. The Royal Society’s continued awards and funding can help us realise this dream.”

Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award – Dr Michael Stephens

Dr Michael Stevens (Ngāi Tahu) was awarded the Royal Society Te Apārangi Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award for his work with the Ngāi Tahu Archive and historiographical advancements in Māori history. The award recognises innovative Māori early career researchers with a promising trajectory. Royal Society Te Apārangi reports that his work has brought the Indigenous history of southern New Zealand to international attention and emphasised the importance of seafaring and maritime mobility.

Mike grew up in Awarua, or Bluff, and developed an early interest in people, places, and history. In an interview in  E-Tangata he said, “it’s a little bit like the way in which you can walk around inside your own house in the dark and not stub your toe because you know where everything is. That’s how I feel about Bluff. I know who’s in what house — or which whānau has been in what house. You know the people. You know the families, the cultures and sub-cultures. At the urupā, you know where people are and where they fit.”

In 2013 Mike received a Marsden Fast-Start research grant for his project The World History of Bluff which looks at the history of a town where almost half the residents self-identify as Māori, compared to about 12 per cent in the Southland region as a whole.

He now works as an independent historian, a role that enables him to bring a fresh iwi-centred perspective to his research. He also shares his work widely, through his writing and in talks and events throughout New Zealand. The Royal Society Te Apārangi stated that “This is a hallmark of Mike’s research methodology: to dive deep into libraries and manuscripts but remain a “known face” and share relevant discoveries with Ngāi Tahu whānau in accessible ways.”

In his acceptance speech Mike acknowledged the harm caused by many of the Royal Society’s early members in their pursuit of colonial science, and said that among other benefits, Ngāi Tahu’s dynamic tribal archive gives back the dignity of their names and whakapapa to the men and women who had been made invisible.

“It is good and proper for the Royal Society to acknowledge our efforts in that regard, which this award does. We sincerely appreciate this recognition, which represents a growing maturity in both the Royal Society and New Zealand society.”

Metge Medal – Professor Steven Ratuva

The Metge Medal rewards excellence and relationship building in the social science research community. This year’s recipient, Professor Steven Ratuva, was cited for his interdisciplinary studies, policy research on security, geopolitics and conflict as well as community wellbeing and equity projects on ethnicity, racism, affirmative action and social protection.

Earlier this year Steven spoke to E-Tangata about his childhood in Fiji, and his growing perception that there was something beyond the horizon. He said, “It’s almost like it’s in our DNA to go out and seek what we can in the world. Then move on. And I and a lot of us Pacific people are still moving.”

He also spoke about western scholars’ increasing recognition of indigenous knowledge as they realise that compartmentalising knowledge can be very superficial, however, he warned against any predatory aspects to the increased recognition, for instance, theft of intellectual property.

“Indigenous knowledge is largely to do with interdisciplinary connections of knowledge. The knowledge of the universe, of the stars, of cosmology, are linked to our knowledge of the ocean and knowledge of culture, of the climate, of innovation and the world around us.”

Steven demonstrates this interdisciplinary thinking with his work, which spans many fields including sociology, history, development studies and politics.

He is currently Professor and Director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury. The Royal Society Te Apārangi lists a number of his projects which include an international project on COVID-19 and global security, and the Palgrave Handbook on Ethnicity, the largest ethnicity project in the world – his aim is to create a more equal and sustainable world, and to give marginalised scholars a voice as much as possible. On the university website he says:

“Who we are, where we come from, who we love, who we hate, what we live for and what we would be willing to die for – our ethnicity underlies our identity and drives many of the conflicts and challenges in our world today. Scholars have struggled to agree on what exactly ethnicity is, mostly because it spans so many disciplines. And if we can’t fully grasp ethnicity in all its complexity, how can we tackle the problems it seems to create?”

All images courtesy of Royal Society Te Apārangi.