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Cultural journey complements Fulbright opportunity

Thursday, 8 August 2019

CarrieClifford-image
Otago's Carrie Clifford (centre) has been awarded a Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Award to conduct PhD research in the United States.

A tauira Māori from the University of Otago who has complemented her academic journey by reconnecting with her culture is hoping her Fulbright Scholarship will inspire others to pursue international excellence.

Carrie Clifford (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu), who gradated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 2016 and is now studying towards her PhD, has been awarded the Ngā Pae ō te Maramatanga-Fulbright Award. She will attend Johns Hopkins University and the University of Colorado to undertake research into Indigenous conceptualisations of child development, mental health and treatment.

Ms Clifford, who was raised in Gore, is one of three tauira Māori who have studied at Otago to gain a Fulbright Award in the 2019 round of scholarships.

Her journey towards a cultural connection could not have had a more contrasting beginning. Te ao Māori was not something that was knowingly practiced around the Clifford household in Gore. Instead, she had her sights set on other paths.

"I did that first paper and I just felt a connection to it and wanted to learn more, so I continued doing those papers and I realised a strong connection to my Māori identity."

“At the start I thought I was going to study psychology and biology or zoology, but I couldn’t remember the filings in Latin,” Clifford recalls. “I took one Māori Studies paper and I loved it.”

The switch ignited a fire within her, and she eventually switched her minor to Māori studies.

What started as a curiosity with te ao Māori made way for a full reconnection with an aspect of her identity yet to be explored.

“My koro passed away when I was really young and I didn’t have any access or resources to do anything at school. I did that first paper and I just felt a connection to it and wanted to learn more, so I continued doing those papers and I realised a strong connection to my Māori identity.”

For Ms Clifford, the journey was not an altogether new one. They were concepts and values she had grown up with, but she had no idea of their foundations within te ao Māori.

This discovery of te ao Māori and the academic struggle led to an often challenging time juggling of two worlds that would synergise towards the Bachelor of Science (BSc).

During her time in Wellington where she did further postgraduate study, she realised that Māori methods in dealing with mental health were being sidelined.

“I could see that our whanau were coming into services and they were being labelled and leaving services like they were in deficit.

“I think it’s so common that whanau feel like they are a deficit or there’s something wrong with them. The whole approach to healthcare, I feel, didn’t align with my values being a young Māori woman and how I wanted to work with whanau.”

It was a realisation that took her on a new path, towards a PhD at the University of Otago to analyse how pū rakau could be used as an approach to foster better mental health. It was an unusual topic, one Ms Clifford says was not a “cookie cutter Psychology PhD”.

But thanks to her supportive supervisors, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne, Professor Poia Rewi from Te Tumu and Dr Julien Gross from the Department of Psychology she is not only doing the qualification, she is embracing it as she continues to learn about her own culture.

"I’m able to bring my own journey into my research, and be really certain that it does help people because I know from my own experience."

“I’m not an expert on pu rakau but my own experiences, learning stories from my tipuna, and stories from the South Island have helped me with my confidence and identity and my belonging.

“I’m able to bring my own journey into my research, and be really certain that it does help people because I know from my own experience.”

A Fulbright representative gave a presentation and encouraged her to apply for the Ngā Pae o te Maramatanga-Fulbright Award. For Ms Clifford, there was a significant level of hesitation. She didn’t fit the mould.

“When they spoke to me about the Ngā Pae scholarship, I did question who was I to apply for that scholarship. Who am I as someone that wasn’t brought up fully in my culture. Who am I as someone that doesn’t have my reo. Who am I as someone that has fair skin to apply for this award and would that be the kind of person they were looking for to promote a Māori scholar?”

These internal conflicts had built up before the Fulbright representative convinced her to apply. Ms Clifford put those questions aside and sent through her application. She set off for the United States at the end of July.

“I was so passionate about what I was doing and believing it, I let that passion overtake any nerves or any kind of worry.

“Since receiving the award and having heaps of people say, ‘it means a lot to see you be so proud of who you are and to be fair-skinned, and to hear your journey’, that you realise the lack of stories we see and how important it is to encourage others. That you can be brought up without your culture, learn your culture and then serve your community.”

The latest chapter of Ms Clifford’s academic journey will allow her to gain a greater understanding of indigenous approaches to mental health. That sort of company, she says, is incredibly important.

“It’s about coming together as indigenous scholars within our fields and seeing how we can strengthen each other, question why we are each doing things the way we do them. It’s exciting.”

"As Carrie’s supervisor, I know that she will immerse herself into this experience 100 per cent. She will learn from her hosts and they will definitely learn from her."

Ms Clifford’s supervisor, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says the Fulbright award is an outstanding opportunity for Ms Clifford to share her own growing knowledge of Māori mental health practices, particularly for children, with experts from other indigenous communities in the United States.

“During her Fulbright, Carrie will work with leading experts in this area, gaining insight into their practices which are similar to and different from the ones she has been exploring here in New Zealand.

“As Carrie’s supervisor, I know that she will immerse herself into this experience 100 per cent. She will learn from her hosts and they will definitely learn from her. Her PhD and her future role as a clinical psychologist in Aotearoa will undoubtedly be much richer as a result of this amazing opportunity.”

Ms Clifford has travelled to the United States alongside two fellow Otago alumnus. Hitaua Arahanga-Doyle will be based at Stanford University and Northwestern University researching the benefits of brief social psychology interventions, while Dr Marise Stuart will be studying the Master’s of Medical Science at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massacheusettes.

Ms Clifford says having three different Māori recipients from different backgrounds is a powerful endorsement of Māori knowledge and indigenous knowledge.

“We are all different as Māori which is important to remember. We represent the diversities of what it means to be Māori, but obviously we all have whakapapa, we’re all really proud of where we come from and we have the same shared passion for what we want to do.

“I just felt really lucky we could go through this experience not as a token one, or one who had to advocate for all indigenous issues in that space. We are here as a group of tauira Māori and that’s exciting.”