The head of the University of Otago's Department of Geography who secured the New Zealand Geographical Society's supreme award says it is a victory for a dynamic approach to research.
Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett, of Ngāti Whatua descent, was awarded the 2018 Distinguished New Zealand Geographer Award and Medal for her work on Māori and indigenous geographies.
Professor Thompson-Fawcett says the accolade is heartening because it recognises research that tips the “academically-centric model” of work on urbanisation and environmental management on its head.
“Ninety per cent of the time I try to work only when communities come to me with issues that are their priorities,” she says.
“I'm not going to a local community saying I'd like to do research on this topic of importance to academia.”
She says having this type of framework recognised rather than the conventional academic process is important.
“It's quite good to have that type of ground-led research acknowledged because it's driven by Māori communities, if you like, rather than driven by the academics.”
While there has been a shift towards recovering indigenous involvement in environmental management and back towards self determination in managing their own rohe, there is still plenty of room for improvement, she says.
“There are some shifts in legislation and basic requirements for engagement, but the shifts are very slow and still implemented in a patchy way across the country.
“So having a body of work that has consistently worked on those kinds of issues acknowledged is really helpful to that agenda within the academy, but also within professional practice.”
Professor Thompson-Fawcett was one of three University of Otago representatives to win awards. Professor Etienne Nel and Dr Jerram Bateman received the service award and the best doctoral thesis respectively.
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