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Ones to Watch: Te Whetu Aarahi Kerekere

Thursday 29 July 2021 11:32am

Te Whetu image
Te Whetu Aarahi Kerekere is studying Forensics and Genetics and says Māori is integrated in all things genetics.

“Ngā mihi kia koe, ko Te Whetu Aarahi ahau. He uri au o Te Tairāwhiti, arā, ka hoki ōku tapuwae ki tōku ūkaipō o Waituhi, kei Tūranganui-a-Kiwa. Kei Otepoti au e noho i tēnei wā kia whai tika i te ara mātauranga, kia whiwhi i tōku tohu Bachelor of Applied Science e pā ana ki te pūtaiao taihara me te mātai ira.

“Kei te whai au i te ara pūtaiao i te mea ka ahua taupapatu te mātauranga pūtaiao me te mātauranga Māori, hei aha, ka mōhio au ka taea te hono pai Te Ao Māori me te ao pūtaiao. Ka kite au i ngā rangatahi Māori e whaihua i roto i te ao pūtaiao, inā hoki ka horopaki ana Te Ao Māori i ngā mea pūtaiao katoa.

“He kupu hoki mō ngā tauira kei te Kura Kaupapa - Ka tino mōhio au he maha ngā mea hei ārei i a mātou, ngā mokopuna o te ao hou, engari me whai tika te ara mātauranga kia tūtuki pai i ngā taumata teitei. Tō ringa ki te rākau e hoa. Māku e whakaū, he ara māmā noaiho tēnei mōu, otirā, ko tō Māoritanga te toko e āwhina i a koe. Karawhiua!

“Ko koe te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga, nā reira nōu te ao.”

Combining her passion for te ao Māori and science wasn’t the original plan, but for a third-year student, she couldn’t have picked a more perfect combination.

Te Whetu Aarahi Kerekere, originally from Gisborne, is about to finish her Bachelor of Applied Science with a major in Forensics and a minor in Genetics.

“I started off my studies here with a minor in Māori Studies as that has always been my interest – it’s literally who I am. I care about all things te ao Māori. I also really wanted to study genetics but choosing it felt like I was leaving Māori behind.

“I was in one of Dr Phil Wilcox’s lectures and he talked about how Māori is integrated in all things genetics too, it was an important shift in my thinking. Phil is now my supervisor for my research under Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.”

Te Whetu Aarahi says after looking more closely, she can see how she hasn’t abandoned her love for her culture at all, but instead is doing important work by bringing Māori perspective into spaces which need it.

“It’s more than just bringing the language, tikanga Māori is also important. How Māori do things, their belief systems and narratives are important for science professionals to understand. For example, many Māori believe that rain is Ranginui’s tears. However, the scientific explanation is quite different, being the condensation of clouds. I have an advantage of understanding both which makes a difference when you work with people and science - instead maybe something like - Often Te Ao Māori and western science clash with each other in this way, but in fact they can co-exist.”

The 20-year-old first gained an interest in forensics when she started watching crime dramas on television and while she has since realised the real thing is a bit different, she is thrilled with her chosen field.

“I love it. Last semester I got to join an autopsy lab which was interesting. I highly recommend it. I’ve also since been put in touch with a previous guest lecturer from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) who is researching multiplexes to differentiate fluids – which would impact forensics. She encouraged me to merge my love for Māori and forensics by putting me in touch with others who do the same in their careers at ESR.”

Te Whetu Aarahi comes from a big family in Gisborne and says attending university isn’t always thought of as a possibility in her hometown.

“I went to Kura Kaupapa and when you’re in that environment there aren’t always many resources and you don’t necessarily contemplate university. A lot of people think it’s way too hard – but actually it’s achievable. Kura kids have an advantage – our heritage is something to be proud of, it anchors you. I would say to other kura, let it be the pillar which keeps you strong and just go for it.”

Outside of her studies, Te Whetu keeps busy with her whānau here in Dunedin and with genetics extra-curricular activities.

“This semester I am doing part time qualitative research for Ngā Pae [o te Māramatanga] and I often volunteer for the Genetics department doing outreach events. I’m a tuakana mentor in the Ka Rikarika a Tāne mentoring programme and I’m also doing a summer studentship in Associate Professor Paul Gardner’s lab in the Department of Biochemistry.”

When Te Whetu Aarahi completes her studies at the end of the year she would like to move onto postgraduate studies.

“There are so many different options for postgrad here – I can even go for biochemistry, which is something I hadn’t thought of until now.

“Whāia te iti kahurangi, ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei.”