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Two Humanities academics elected Royal Society Fellows

Thursday 1 April 2021 11:51am

The work of two Division of Humanities academics on progressive planning by Indigenous communities and the importance of te reo Māori has been recognised by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Geography Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett and former Te Tumu School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies Head Poia Rewi were this month elected Fellows of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

M ThompsonFawcett Staff Photo
Professor Thompson-Fawcett.

A Geography academic at Otago since 1999, Professor Thompson-Fawcett (Ngāti Whātua) is a world-leading expert in advancing contemporary mātauranga Māori and fostering Indigenous approaches to culturally sustainable planning.

In 2018 she received an Ako Aotearoa National Kaupapa Māori Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award, the NZ Geographical Society Distinguished Geographer Award and Medal, and a NZ Planning Institute John Mawson Award of Merit.

The Royal Society praised Thompson-Fawcett’s research for its “provocative conceptual nature,” and its focus on Indigenous methodologies and self-determination, its discussion of evolving Indigenous planning fields, and its work on impact assessment, cultural landscape protection and papakāinga development.

The Society also noted the interdisciplinary nature of the research and how it has provided a global collective platform for Indigenous groups to communicate in the emerging international space of Indigenous planning and development.

Professor Thompson-Fawcett says the significance of being made a Fellow is the “signal it sends about potential and pathways to those who are coming through after me.”

“The passion for my research is derived from, and continues to be driven by, the Indigenous communities with whom I work. Their steadfastness and commitment to bring about transformation in society despite relentless roadblocks is exceptional, and I cannot help but be uplifted and inspired by that.”

Professor Poia Rewi (Ngāti Manawa, Tūhoe, Te Arawa, Ngāti Whare and Tūwharetoa) came to Te Tumu in 2003, was appointed Dean in mid-2015 and promoted to Professor in 2016. He left Otago to become Tumu Whakarae (Chief Executive) of Te Mātāwai, a government agency created to assist hapū, iwi and communities in the important task of Māori-language revitalisation late last year.

Professor Rewi at a Pacific farewell event last year.

An acknowledged master of te reo Māori, Professor Rewi always taught advanced-level language classes and was highly sought after as a supervisor by postgraduate students in Te Tumu. In 2012 he received the OUSA Supervisor of the Year Award.

His many publications and projects explore te reo Māori, language revitalisation, tikanga Māori, Māori oratory and Māori history. He also composed waiata and haka for performance at various cultural festivals.

His 2005 PhD was written completely in te reo Māori and the thesis, published in 2010 as Whaikōrero: The World of Māori Oratory by Auckland University Press, went on to win the Best First Book Non-Fiction Award in the 2011 New Zealand Book Awards.

The Royal Society commended Professor Rewi’s contribution to new knowledge which had “generated new international linguistic practices.” The Society also praised his work with Professor Rawinia Higgins on the Zero Passive Active Māori language revitalisation model, which has now been incorporated into policy and used to inform new legislation: Te Ture mo Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Act 2016) and has been implemented to accelerate the learning of te reo in schools.

“His research outputs have brought forward new knowledge in Aotearoa New Zealand that reflects Māori world views and has generated new practices in linguistics for Indigenous people internationally.” 

Jessica Palmer 2020 image
Professor Jessica Palmer

Division of Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Jessica Palmer says the appointments recognise significant academic achievements that emphasise the importance of te reo Māori and promote indigenous values in environmental management and planning.

“Whakamihi to Professors Michelle Thompson-Fawcett and Poia Rewi – their appointments are well-deserved. Their research and teaching both communicated the value of the Humanities and make a meaningful impact globally. The Division is very grateful for the contribution Professor Rewi made to Otago while with us at Te Tumu and we are the beneficiaries of Professor Thompson-Fawcett’s research and leadership within the School of Geography Te Iho Whenua and in her role as Associate Dean Māori for the Division.”