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Distinguished Professor Jacinta Ruru was officially welcomed into the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) at a commanding pōwhiri at Ōtākou Marae on Monday.

“All of our graduates are going to be better equipped to succeed in their careers if they’ve had opportunities to learn more about the Māori world, about the Māori language, about tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori.”

For Distinguished Professor Jacinta Ruru MNZM (Raukawa, Ngāti Ranginui) the creation of a Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) position at Otago is a dream come true. Here she talks with Laura Hewson about what the new role means to her and how it will benefit the University as a whole.

A world of possibilities has just opened up for Māori at Otago, says new Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) Distinguished Professor Jacinta Ruru.

“The creation of the DVC (Māori) office is something that as Māori academic staff we’ve been seeking for a long time. To have this investment into a Māori academic voice at this senior level is really significant and it will really help us as a place of learning and research excellence to be the very best that we can be.

“The University is implementing its strategic intent to support our staff and students to achieve their best and this includes to whakamana Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It’s a real moment for the University of Otago.”

Jacinta joined Otago’s Faculty of Law in 1999. She went on to become New Zealand’s first Māori Professor of Law and one of the first Māori women to be recognised as a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. She is also a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Tertiary Teaching and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and the law.

Jacinta was appointed to the DVC (Māori) position after an “intense” three-day interview process and was officially welcomed into the role at a special pōwhiri at Ōtākou Marae on Monday.

“The generosity of mana whenua to welcome me in this way was so significant for the importance of our University relationship with mana whenua. It was an incredible day filled with excitement and aroha.

“My whānau was so moved to be in the wharenui with mana whenua, University and local community leaders and Māori leaders from across the country. It was a huge celebration of us as Māori and our aspirations for what more is possible at the University.”

That same day she also held a significant public seminar marking the new Pou Koko Māori role titled Koinei Tātou: This is Who we Are! The event featured a strong line-up of Otago alumni, staff and students.

“I wanted this new office to open with a clear demonstration of my commitment to working collectively for us as we draw inspiration from some remarkable people connected to Otago. It was wonderful to co-chair the event with Edward Ellison and together host an amazing line up of speakers including impressive alumni Judge Rachel Mullins, Emeritus Professor Poia Rewi and Professor Tangiwai Rewi.”

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    Jacinta Ruru, surrounded by whānau and supporters, makes her way to the wharenui at Ōtākou Marae on Monday.

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    Jacinta Ruru and fellow manuhiri enter the wharenui at Ōtākou Marae.

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    Ōtākou kaumātua Edward Ellison, Dr Jeanette Wikaira and Professor Tangiwai Rewi celebrate with Jacinta Ruru.

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    Whānau, Māori and Community leaders, and University colleagues join Jacinta Ruru to mark the momentous occasion.

One of Jacinta’s first priorities will be to conduct a rapid review of the different University initiatives that are already in place to support Māori tauira and kaimahi to succeed.

“There are some amazing things happening at Otago but there’s also much more to do. With this rapid review we’ll be able to have a look at what’s working well, what’s not, what we can scale up and what new initiatives we need.

“It’s basically supercharging the things that we’re already doing really well and ensuring there is strategic and structural infrastructure and support to flourish.”

Having a seat at the senior leadership table – which also includes the Director of the Office of Māori Development – will ensure that Māori contributions are front and centre, she says.

“It can be there right from the beginning to help support and enable our whole University to have the confidence around our Māori academic agenda and around our Māori students and staff flourishing here. That’s the key thing I see for this position.”

The University has some very ambitious goals to whakamana Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and the Education and Training Act has some clear responsibilities in ensuring that all graduates are ready for the Aotearoa workforce of today and tomorrow, she says.

“That workforce is going to be engaging more and more with Māori clients. With iwi, with whānau, with hapū. So, whether they’re working in dentistry, education, marketing – whatever area it is – all our graduates will need to be more equipped to succeed in their careers if they’ve had opportunities to learn more about the Māori world, about the Māori language, about tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori.”

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    Ōtākou kaumātua Edward Ellison and Jacinta Ruru at the Koinei Tātou: This is Who we Are! seminar on Monday.

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    Māori Land Court Judge and Waitangi Tribunal presiding officer Rachel Mullins speaks at the seminar.

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    Members of Te Rōpū Whai Pūtake – Māori Law Student’s Association – perform at the seminar.

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    Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Ballantyne, second from left, congratulates IT Projects Manager and the Compass Project Co-Chair Rasha Abu Safieh Alfar after she won the tiebreaker in a quiz.

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    Emeritus Professor Poia Rewi and Kiringāua Cassidy enjoy a speech by Professor Tangiwai Rewi.

Jacinta has a “deep love” for the Faculty of Law and hopes to continue a small component of teaching and research where possible.

“I love the idea of being able to still have the opportunity to teach the first-year law students and retain a sense of the academic rhythm throughout the year; to be part of that welcoming and learning journey with them right from the beginning when they first choose law at Otago.”

Awards and achievements

2011: University of Otago Rowheath Award and Carl Smith Medal; Fulbright Ngā Pae o te Maramatanga Senior Māori Scholar Award; Co-founded Te Poutama Māori (Otago’s Māori academic staff caucus)

2016: Fellow of New Zealand's Royal Society Te Apārangi; Prime Minister’s Supreme Teaching Excellence Award and Kaupapa Māori Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award; appointed Professor becoming New Zealand’s first Māori professor of law

2016 – 2021: Co-Director at Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence)

2017: Tedx speaker

2018: Kiwibank Local Hero Award

2019: Awarded an inaugural University of Otago Sesquicentennial Distinguished Chair

2021: Co-edited Nga Kete Matauranga: Māori scholars at the research interface with Linda Waimarie Nikora (OUP)

2022: Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit; awarded University of Otago’s Distinguished Research Medal

2023: Chartered membership Institute of Directors; invited membership Global Women New Zealand

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