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waAhine toa provide leadership

Women have played a key role in the college’s leadership and include Dr Ngapare Hopa, who was the first Māori woman to become a PhD in 1977 and Dr Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai, its inaugural Academic Director.


Reflecting on the development of the Endowed College, Dr Tiakiwai says the launch of the Tuumate Maahuta scholarships for postgraduate study in 1996, a year after the Raupatu settlement was the forerunner to the bricks and mortar of the College.

Dr Tiakiwai, who had previously graduated from Auckland University with a Master’s degree, was encouraged by Sir Robert Mahuta to undertake her PhD – and later that year she became was the first Waikato-Tainui doctoral scholarship recipient.

“Now all these years later the opportunities that have come about as a result of that, I think for me it’s a huge personal investment that the tribe made not just through the scholarship but all the opportunities that came from that.”

She’s proud of the Governance Training programme – Piki Tuu – that they developed in collaboration with Ngaai Tahu to assist tribal members to learn the ropes of governance from an iwi perspective, as well as a summer internship programme for undergraduates. There was also a marae development programme called Whakatupu Marae. During her stewardship as academic director, Dr Tiakiwai had four MBA cohorts graduate – an opportunity to develop the next cadre of leaders.

While she has enjoyed her role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Waikato University since she was appointed in 2017, Dr Tiakiwai looks to the future of the Endowed College with much optimism, as it seeks to fulfil the vision of its founder.

“It was often talked about as a white elephant, but it was more the discussions and the think tank and the research that would come out of it and how it would that benefit the tribe.”

Lady Raiha Mahuta is another unsung hero in the College’s development. She continued on the work of her late husband and secured an endowment for the College as an addition to the 2008 Waikato River Settlement. The educational centre was to provide leadership, innovation and research in indigenous development and practices with a special focus on improving the health and wellbeing of the Waikato River.

In 2018 a restructure saw the appointment of a chief executive officer, Dr. Cheryl Stephens and an executive team. 

Stephens says the College’s mission is grounded in the pursuit of tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) and the tongi (prophetic saying) of King Tawhiao, Maaku anoo e hanga i tooku nei whare – I will build this house where I reside.

“It’s about ‘fashioning our own house’ as well as implementing Sir Robert’s vision of the College for transforming tribal members into international citizens through postgraduate study and higher education.”

Ideally, the College’s student population will be made up of a third of Waikato tribal members. The mix will also include New Zealanders and international or indigenous students. 

While that still remains a long term goal, a partnership with Te Whare Waananga o Awanuiarangi is growing its first cohort of professional doctorate students. Ten of the 14-strong group are from Tainui.

“One of the key elements is the international outreach,” Cheryl said. “So we have interactions with students from indigenous communities in Maui, Hawaii and Tacoma in Seattle.”

Over the years thousands of tribal members have received grants from the Tainui Maaori Trust Board’s small 1946 settlement fund but there was no tracking system to show how their studies went and where they are now.

Since 2003, $14 million of scholarships have been awarded to tribal members, with more than 600 recipients in the past financial year. The top three institutions that tribal members are enrolled at are Waikato University, Te Waananga o Aotearoa and Auckland University of Technology(AUT) and the top fields of study are sciences, education and social services.

Waikato-Tainui General Manager Education and Pathways Raewyn Mahara says they are in a much better space nowadays. The tribal database shows what qualification the applicants have and what marae they belong to, which gives them the ability to provide and connect students with internship and job opportunities.

“We are far more co-ordinated and more purposeful around utilising this database and supporting our people, it’s not a one-hit-wonder –  here’s some money –  but it’s connecting them to a bigger purpose,” says Mahara.

Cheryl and her team have since created a Matanga network, reaching out to tribal members with doctorates. So far they’ve reconnected with 49 of 100 doctoral graduands who are keen to contribute to tribal development, and a big aim is to eventually build research communities at a marae level.

“Some of it is around growing their own community researchers, people who haven’t been involved with practical research, teaching them to use that,  then cater to the marae’s own research needs going forward.”