Māori scholar awarded prestigious research scholarship to the UK

By Marena Mane

As a recipient of the Woolf Fisher scholarship, a Māori Auckland University graduate will travel to the UK to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Cambridge.

The Woolf Fisher scholarship is worth $60,000 a year for up to four years and is one of the most prestigious scholarships available to students in Aotearoa, with only four awarded each year.

Miriama Aoake of Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Hinerangi, and Waikato-Tainui is one of those recipients.

Aoake recently completed her masters of arts in social anthropology.

She says as with many Māori students, her educational path was not straightforward, until she came across the Māori studies department at Waipapa Taumata Rau (Auckland University), where she felt at home.

“I'm very, very indebted to that department, and I'm grateful that they've still kept me on to be an annoying presence,” she says.

Adapting to change

Aoake says she was overwhelmed and privileged when she learned she had won the scholarship, so she had a cup of tea and a nap before telling her father and whānau.

“Nothing I've done at all is possible without them and indeed everything that I have done is with them.” 

Because of Covid, Aoake says she had to adjust her research concept dramatically to one that was adaptive to changing situations and something that was tika (fair).

“I'm looking at welfare policy from 1938 when we introduced the welfare state.”

Māori have sought a constitutional vision of welfare since 1840, according to Aoake, and Māori are driven to the periphery of social welfare results and end up at the bottom.

“And so it's really just all hands on deck and that's where I feel like my services are most needed and that's where my focus will be directed.”

Aoake says she'll be leaving Aotearoa in September for the October term at Cambridge University, and she's worried about the 40,000 cases of Covid they have in the UK every day.

“Traveling in a pandemic is not really ideal. But I just have to take every kind of safety precaution and, as a stickler for the rules. I'll be doing that.”