Māori professor at Otago receives top geography award

Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett, of Ngāti Whātua, has been awarded the 2018 Distinguished New Zealand Geographer Award and Medal for her work on Māori and indigenous geographies.

She says the award is heartwarming as it recognises the type of research that goes into this line of work.

“Ninety percent of the time I try to work only when communities come to me with issues that are their priorities.  I’m not going to a local community saying I’d like to do research on this topic of importance to academia.”

Professor Thompson-Fawcett says it is important that this type of framework is recognised. 

“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 is a movement to involve indigenous people in environmental issues, there is also room for improvement.

“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.