“I found something amazing here,” says Otago Masters student Tawini White of her Māori language research within Te Tumu School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies.
Now halfway through her Master’s looking at regional language variations/reo ā-iwi in Māori language, Tawini is aware her academic life in Dunedin has been unusually blessed.
“As a second year I was fortunate to be employed in an internship, something usually reserved for students in their fourth year or upwards. I was asked to research the value of the Ngāi Tahu dialect by Te Tumu Dean Associate Professor Poia Rewi as part of a project funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (the Māori Centre of Research Excellence).
“It was the first time I’d thought about dialect that intensely. On my mother’s side I am Ngāi Tahu, and on my father’s side I am Te Rarawa. I realised I’d been around different variations of Māori regional languages my whole life. I did my Honours about my father’s dialect, but my Master’s is more generic – covering multiple iwi, getting different perspectives about what regional language difference means to Māori.”
Originally from Rāwene in Northland, Tawini chose to study at Otago because of her mother’s family connections to the area.
“I found something amazing here,” she says, “I found my people. Te Tumu department was very much part of that, but the Māori Centre and Te Roopū Māori (Otago’s Māori Students' Association) made it feel really good to be here.”
Preferring to gain some life experience before considering a PhD, Tawini is certain her time at Otago has created pathways for her professional career.
“Through my research and working for Poia, I have gone on to do internships for both my iwi, including working for Te Hiku Radio, in Northland, transcribing archival interviews conducted in Māori. I also worked for Kotahi Mano Kāika, Kotahi Mano Wawata, an iwi based language revitalisation strategy. I’ve already been able to apply my skills, and I haven’t even had a full time job yet!”