Episode 5


Interview with Dr Rochelle Menzies and Miriama Aoake.

Dr Rochelle Menzies. Te Aitanga-ā-Māhaki, Ngāti Kahungunu. Senior Advisor Māori – Equity, Mental Health and Addiction Directorate, Ministry of Health.

Miriama Aoake. Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Hinerangi and Waikato-Tainu. Woolf Fisher Scholar, Cambridge University.


PAULINE: Hello and welcome to Pandemics Reflected. This is Dr. Pauline Herbst, medical anthropologist here at the University of Auckland, and today we’ll be talking to Dr. Rochelle Menzies, Senior Advisor Māori – Equity, Mental Health and Addiction Directorate, Ministry of Health. And we’re talking to Miriama Aoake, a recently completed masters student at the University of Auckland, who will shortly be leaving for Cambridge to complete her doctorate. Welcome both of you. And as we start off today’s show, we’re going to have a brief pepeha from both of our guests. Rochelle over to you.


PAULINE: Kia ora. Welcome to both of you. It is so lovely to have you here on the show today. So one of the very first questions that I always kick off with is how does your research relate to the pandemic? So, Miriama, do you want to just give us a very, very brief overview of what you do (or what you were doing before you go off to your next adventure) and how that relates to the current pandemic?

MIRIAMA: I’ll keep it brief. I started my MA in 2020, which, reflecting on it now – all of the things that transpired in those couple of years – obviously my research had to shift. I decided to go with the tide rather than against it and I looked at Māori experiences, understandings and responses to COVID and Māori state relations during that time.

PAULINE: And you’re a… what subfield are you?

MIRIAMA: Social anthropologist, yeah, yeah, I still have some sort of queries over that, you know, as being Māori and being a Māori researcher, obviously, I think a sort of kaupapa Māori social anthropologist. Somehow I’ve got to figure it out, but I’ve got another three or four years to do that with the Ph.D., so I’m glad.

PAULINE: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a really important part of today’s discussion. So it would be great if we can elaborate on that little bit more soon, in what the kaupapa Māori approach means to you and to research because one of the things we discuss in the show is how the production of knowledge has changed as the lives of the researchers behind that knowledge changes, and that it’s really important for people to think about: “How is this knowledge produced that we are all subscribing to in certain ways”?


PAULINE Rochelle, so what area are you in? What is your background and how did your research relate to the ongoing pandemic?

ROCHELLE: OK, so for me, the pandemic had hit not long after I started in a post-doc research fellow role at Koi Tu, the Centre for Informed Futures. So I suddenly found myself in  (about a month into that role, where I hadn’t met many of, the other colleagues at that point) found myself in this online remote working world. And thanks to director Sir Peter Gluckman, who is an absolute expert at quick pivoting, we did quickly pivot and found ourselves, I think what he described as, the academic frontline of the pandemic.

ROCHELLE: And so I found myself working with remotely with groups of experts, everything from mental health to education to actually in the health sector themselves, psychiatrists, psychologists… So I found myself in that kind of a role, writing reports that were aimed at being high profile publications aimed at the government, policy makers, etc. decision makers… so I was heavily involved in multiple publications where I was being the post-doc on the team. I was involved in the synthesis of evidence, the note taking, the writing of the drafts, all the editing of those publications and that we focussed predominantly at the start. We had a first report that was on protecting and promoting mental wellbeing was what it was called. And then from there I quickly found because of my ethnicity being Māori, I had a natural inclination to want to drill down into how was this impacting Māori? And then from there, also Pasifika and other disadvantaged communities. So I very quickly got a bit of a focus there around the impacts on those groups around education, their mental wellbeing, etc. So that was the brunt of my work around the pandemic.


PAULINE: It sounds incredibly rewarding, but also like it was quiet, as you say, a pivot – a quick pivot. Miriama, you were also looking at similar issues. You were seeing how Māori in particular were being affected by the pandemic. And in one of our conversations previously to prepare, you talked about there being two different pandemics effectively. Can you tell us a little bit more about your research findings?

MIRIAMA: Yes, I can. I think as Rochelle said, the pivot was really quite quick, and, you know, for a master’s student, it sort of felt a bit overwhelming at the time. But it also felt like a huge opportunity. My master’s research tended to focus on, looking really intently at the everyday kind of experiences that Māori were going through, not only in terms of health, of course, but as Rochelle said, you know, this broader kind of array of things that were being impacted, that were determining quality of life, but also, you know, the way that Māori was able to interact with one another, how we sought health advice. You know, kids going to school, experiences of mental health, all those kinds of things that it was all kind of wrapped into one.

MIRIAMA: But I did focus a lot on my ethnography. It was a digital ethnography. A lot of that was sort of a media based ethnography, so looking at what media was saying about Māori issues, but also looking at Māori, what Māori was saying to one another, online reactions to government announcements, Māori based initiatives that… It’s so easy, I think, (and this is a trap that I found myself falling into) was the Māori response to this, to the thing that the Crown is doing.

MIRIAMA: But actually, when you get on the ground, and get to the core and the dirt of getting your hands dirty, as Graham Smith might say, you actually find that, you know, all of these initiatives are Māori driven, and Māori are quite readily leaping ahead of government in these communities and enacting these actions that, yeah, are well ahead of the curve. I looked at Māori experiences in… (gosh, I’ve forgotten the name of those) MIQ. You see how quickly the pandemic language changes! I looked at MIQ, at Māori experiences of sort of punishment and yeah, trying to sort of operate in a Māori way and how that was sort of routinely punished. I looked at policy. I looked at (obviously it was an election year, so it just ramped everything up way more. So it was it was a lot.

MIRIAMA: But you know, the consistent finding was that there was an opportunity. It felt like there was an opportunity and Māori were communicating that this is the opportunity that we have to be able to enact some of those things that might enable us to get some of those transformative outcomes. And actually, that opportunity was somewhat missed by the Crown. But Māori were more than capable of working towards those transformative outcomes. And above all that, the state continues to operate as a kind of punitive institution for Māori. So yeah, in brief I think.

PAULINE: That’s great. Well, not so great, but great answer. I’m interested in how you talk about punishments and what you might mean by that. And Rochelle. I know that you’ve found some, some interesting correlations in some of the chats we’ve had about previous work that you were doing for your doctorate. Can you speak to that at all?

ROCHELLE: I think definitely from my PhD days, I suppose how I would speak to that more on the punitive side is that I think our experience of colonisation is pretty much punitive to so much of what being Māori is all about. To our tikanga, through to our traditional healing practises, and cultural practises that were at some points actually legislated out from us. So we do experience a lot of colonial structures and systems and ways of doing things westernised, or in health, (if you want to speak health), clinical ways of going about things can be experienced in quite a punitive, restrictive way for Māori.

That came through my PhD around, you know, experiences with justice systems, a police justice system, prisons, state care and right through to even, you know, education and that. Māori often suffer the inequities, the deficit thinking, stereotyping and the media who’ve been long held up by international bodies, watchdogs for this. However, I’ve got to say I was interested in what Miriama was saying earlier because I was also relying a lot on media reporting during the pandemic because there wasn’t reports out everything was happening so fast. It was in real time that everything was unfolding and to hear our voices, our community’s voices, we actually were relying a lot of the time on really good journalists to actually be bringing that through for us so that people like her and I could actually hear these voices. Because we were all in lockdown. It wasn’t like we could be going and engaging heavily with our communities. So just a two-part thing there. But that’s my take on the punitive side, but I suppose I’m speaking from that very high level, principle level around: why punitive? Yeah.


PAULINE: Absolutely. And with bringing up the media, it was quite stark. You could see the really good journalism and the really good media reporting versus some of that more sensationalist headline hitting stuff. What’s interested me in what both of you have said around this is that your methods had to change really quickly. Rochelle, am I correct? Your PhD isn’t from Māori studies? Is that correct?

ROCHELLE: It’s health sciences — my discipline. It just happened that my main supervisor, Professor Tracey McIntosh, is Head of the School of Indigenous Studies or Tuwhanga Waiapa as it’s called at the University of Auckland. She’s also the head of the Māori department. So, yeah, I’ve got, you know, my degree is in health sciences, but that’s where I was. It was my home, if you know what I mean, that was my PhD home. My whanau while was doing my PhD. Absolutely.

PAULINE: And then, Miriama, you were in anthropology. But as you we talked a little bit about how there was this different challenge and a different set of methods that you were reconciling. And another thing you both talked about is this media and digital approach. So anthropology with myself being an anthropologist, it’s largely based a lot on participant observation and going into the field. Miriama. I’d like to just talk to you a little bit further about how your original plans of perhaps going into the field and staying with communities, were very unsettled and changed by the COVID pandemic and those lockdowns. And how perhaps that that produced both concern and a closing off of your one path, but perhaps presented some other opportunities for you?

MIRIAMA: I think it was a month, about a month or three weeks. That was a really fast turnaround. And actually, I was meeting with supervisors every week to sort of gauge where we were at and whether we could continue to pursue this project. And it was a week by week sort of cases. Eventually it got to week three, week four, start of semester, just started tutoring… All of those kinds of things were happening and it was like…, You’ve got to change. Scrap your ethics application that you’ve been working on for the past three weeks. Come up with a new a new project. This project that I had planned to do had been years in thinking and reading, and thinking conceptually, thinking about the practicalities of undertaking that research, and I was interested in looking at Māori women’s experiences of pain in relation to labour. And every time I said that, people thought, ah yeah, Māori birth practises or something. Oh, no other labour! Work!

MIRIAMA: So thinking about work, and I guess the question is (anthropologists going into the field), as always, you know, who do you want to spend time with? And I just wanted to go and hang out with Māori woman. I think they’re the most fun sometimes, but that obviously didn’t eventuate. There’s no way that you could go into the field, at any stage for it’s just such a significant risk for COVID, and obviously across the university, all those kinds of activities were shut down. So again, rather than sort of struggling against the tide and trying to, you know… the idea of postponing the MA came up, but I really wanted to keep working at something while we were going to be online. And though I love teaching, I wasn’t teaching full time, so I continued with the MA…

MIRIAMA: …went with the course of looking at those Māori crown relations during the pandemic, and I think it was really difficult. I think I underestimated the difficulty of constantly keeping up with the Crown and the responses to the pandemic, but also in terms of, what things Māori were actioning and trying to sort of mire yourself in all of that stuff for a long time of, you know, eight to nine months of fieldwork was a lot. So. Good luck to anyone who has done the same, and you know, I’m sure Rochelle and you, Pauline, you know, it’s a lot to take on.

PAULINE: Yeah. And I think for a lot of researchers this whole period has been incredibly interesting, difficult, challenging, productive and all these things simultaneously in a single day. It’s interesting for me how you were going to look at Māori women’s experiences of pain with Māori women on a marae. And in a way you almost did look at experiences of pain and interactions with the Crown and sort of senses of community because our whole sense of community changed as a nation and as a world. Rochelle, do you want to talk us through a little more around how your research methods perhaps needed to pivot?


PAULINE? You had just started at Koi Tu, I think you were defending your PhD at the time, is that right?

ROCHELLE: I submitted three months into the pandemic, and it was because we hit that, like I said, that academic frontline response and we were working all the hours that they were in a day basically. We were just so busy and it delayed… I had one chapter to write and that ended up taking me three months before I finally had enough energy and time to finish that and submit it. So then it dragged its way through the examination process because I required (because of my topic) an indigenous examiners. So one, of course, being national, so Māori and one international. Of course, with our communities both here and globally basically being impacted the very hardest by the pandemic, my PhD was hit. My heart goes out to anyone who was a like a postdoc at the time with their own research on the boil, or like a Masters or a PhD. student or those who had big projects like our colleague Dr. Jacquie Bay. She had her South Pacific project on the boil at the time. They were really heavily impacted so badly.

ROCHELLE: Me all I had to moan about was it just took a very, very long time to get through the examination process. I actually ended up defending mine last year, around April. I think it was April 19, and then it took, because of the, impacts of the pandemic on the system in general, it took till the end of the year until just gone, so November just gone December, so wasn’t able to graduate in person because of the impacts of Delta. So it’s been felt, it’s been felt around the research community and in many different ways. I think depending on where you were at, at the time, when it came. Yeah.


PAULINE: Yes, it has certainly – and still is – affecting many people and the trajectories that they thought they’d be going upon. Speaking of that, could you, Miriama, take us through a day in the life of you as a researcher, perhaps as you were going through lockdown and how that changed from, say, now?

MIRIAMA: Well, it was it was interesting because we had one Ph.D. student in the house, two master’s students and another who was about to begin her Ph.D., and two of us were teaching. And we had one full time worker who was home much to his happiness but also, you know, you need some work to get on with to to pass the time. So we had to try and figure out a kind of schedule to make sure that we could teach kind of without interruption, that people still had space to work on, you know, the things that they needed to get on with. A typical day, I’d wake up. I might have a morning tutorial to teach. I think there was one semester (I think it was actually the first semester, maybe it wasn’t), I think I had three tutorials in a single day, so that might be it. And as you both know, from teaching online, it’s, you know, an incredibly restrictive process because you don’t get the same dynamics that you would do teaching in person. You can’t have that kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) sort of interaction. You don’t get to establish (it feels like) the same kind of relationships that you might otherwise.

MIRIAMA: So it was really hard going because we’d only just started. I had stage one students that I was teaching. This is their first foray into the university, so a lot of it was just about manaakitanga, really, and just checking in with students every week to see if they were OK, if they needed devices. I know the Faculty of Arts and Pacific Studies and Māori Studies (Te Wānanga o Waipapa) all kind of worked across that really quickly to get devices out to students, to get modems out to students, to connect houses up to have Wi-Fi throughout so that students could study and teach throughout. So a lot of it was really from my memory was writing when I had the chance and I’m a night time writer so that that time of day usually works best for me. But my days were generally filled with a lot of thinking about students and in that moment, I really sort of discarded a lot of the MA stuff.

MIRIAMA: I’d write, you know, I’d get on with stuff when I could, but my students kind of occupied a lot of my time in my thinking, and a lot of them, as we know, were not doing the best. They were struggling. There were significant challenges that, you know, at times it felt impossible. And so it was really working alongside a brilliant teaching team that I worked with: Briar, Zoe, Camila and Teopara down in Māori Studies to make sure that we could support our students as best we could and also take care of ourselves. So that was really, you know, the brunt of the 2020 lockdown.


PAULINE: A lot of pastoral care that often goes unnoticed and under the radar due to a lot of focus on publications and outputs. So it is always that that juggle. Rochelle, what did your day look like when you were in the pandemic? You were in lockdown, you didn’t go into onto campus or into Koi Tu at all?

ROCHELLE: No, it was very much just in lockdown at home. So I’m quite lucky, and I always see this the whole way through, that I think was one of the lucky ones. My little household was just myself and my youngest here at home still. So she was in year 12 when the pandemic hit at school, and so she basically did year 12 and 13 predominantly remotely and working from home. And I know from the research I had to do over that time, particularly around the impacts on our Māori and Pacifica whana, large whanau, multiple children, quite large whanau in terms of the number of tamariki sharing one device, or maybe a phone that was a parents, a lack of credit, etc. or platforms they were needing to use for the learning that was incompatible with the phone they had and things like that. So I suppose that helped to really keep me in check big time because I knew because of the work I was doing and the delving into how our communities were really doing it so, so hard.

ROCHELLE: They still are, you know, really. But during that time, the southern lockdowns and we weren’t prepared. I don’t think the globe was prepared and Aotearoa wasn’t either, you know, like you were saying, they’re having to action the devices out really quickly. We weren’t set up for online learning or at least our more privileged communities or groups were, but not the ones that were going to be the hardest hit by the pandemic and then also the other impacts on them, like the remote learning. So yeah, and my daughter and I are also little introverts so we also coped very well in that respect. But a lot of other people don’t cope well with it being locked away at home. They need that social interaction for their mental wellbeing.

ROCHELLE: Me I could cope quite well, but I must admit when we finally did come out of lockdowns, both that first national one at the start of the pandemic and then after the Delta, the extended one of the Delta, I found myself really out of sorts in terms of going out in public, and it was like almost having to learn to speak again and going into shops and “well that’s right, you actually do talk to people” and learning to make small talk again. And that’s sort of more when I got the insight into how much, how isolated I had been for so long. But now I think I was one of the lucky ones in that I could work through it. And my daughter actually coped really well with remote learning, and I know so many youth that didn’t and so very blessed on that extent. And yeah, I was lucky enough to have a household with things ticked along quite nicely. And it wasn’t the same for everyone.

ROCHELLE: How it impacted on my research, it doesn’t really other than like I said, really found myself in this very, very busy world online in a new centre doing this academic response and just lots of working long, long hours, so that just kind of delayed me getting that PhD submitted. But really, my research – because of the pivot – became all about the pandemic so I was right in the midst of it all. And that’s been nothing but rewarding really, rewarding and informative. And I’ve been able to, since that first year, I’ve been able to bring all that knowledge I learnt during that year of being a postdoc in that space during the pandemic, and I’ve been able to bring that now to where I work for the government and actually bring it and form policy – to bring, the knowledge I gained, the publications I was involved with, the research I know about and have been involved with as well – and I’ve been able to bring that all through and, you know, for really evidence based decision making, especially around the psychosocial support we did around Delta and all that kind of thing. Yeah, I’ve been lucky and I’m the first to admit it.

PAULINE: Well, it’s good to hear that there’s been some opportunities for you there. Rochelle, you and I met when through a project through the Liggins Institute with, as you mentioned, Dr Jacquie Bay. We were looking at some of those mental psychosocial health issues through a survey that was done with young people who were experiencing the COVID lockdown for the first time. So it seems a lot has happened in a very short space of time, and that is impacting not only on researchers like ourselves at tertiary level, but also much younger communities in learning.


PAULINE: The next thing I wanted to discuss was shifts and changes in disciplines, and this links again to some of the things we’ve mentioned around methods earlier. So a lot of scholars and public intellectuals have noted in their different disciplines that a lot of assumptions around how people are expected to work – that blurring between work and personal lives, for example – that certain inequities have certainly been highlighted over this time. Have you noticed anything specifically? Miriama, you’ve mentioned some things. Have you noticed anything specifically that you think could change in terms of knowledge production, say, a greater blending of a more kaupapa Māori approach with sort of a more traditional participant observation anthropology approach? Or do you think that that’s something that’s not appropriate and needs to be done slightly differently? And have you noticed a greater receptivity towards that sort of thinking that there needs to be some change in how we approach knowledge?

MIRIAMA: I think so. I think, you know, Tracy (Professor Tracey MacIntosh), as you will know, Rochelle, she often talks about the people that she works with as experts of their own condition. And so I found that going through the ethics process for the first time, I did a lot of things in that year that I don’t think I would have been able to do anywhere else and had those things not happened, which gave me so much experience, which I’m totally grateful for. But the ethics process, I thought, was fascinating and was, you know, everyone says, you’re going to take your hair out by the end of it.

MIRIAMA: We started an ethics and morality reading group in social anthropology, which kept a lot of us sane and also helped us think along those ethical lines and actually take a lot of conceptual stuff and think about it in practical terms of how we action this. And so when I applied for ethics, I had a kaupapa Māori approach and methodology. Obviously, working with Māori and also in the digital space, that that threw up something completely different as well. So trying to do a lot of background reading on, you know – and experiencing it at the time – how do we do kaupapa Māori research in a digital space, given the constraints of COVID and also ensure that, you know, at the same time, we’re upholding the mana of all of our participants.

MIRIAMA: And so I wrote really rigorously about this. I trimmed it down, of course, as you need to do, and ethics came back and they sort of said, you know, and in a very polite and ethics committee sort of way, this resembles sort of earnest harassment. The way that I was trying to sort of power share with my participants and to ensure that they had, you know, ownership, co-ownership over the recordings, any interview recordings that we would do, they would all be done on Zoom. So how did they feel about having their face recorded? Did they want audio instead?

MIRIAMA: Every single one of my participants didn’t want to sign a written consent form, and that’s a very, very common thing. There were things about, the koha and the compensation. Those two things don’t marry together well together at all. So trying to sort of put koha in a context of the ethics committee, but also keep it consistent with kaupapa Māori. And, you know, the ethics committee concern was really that you’re, you know, you’re a post-grad student with post-graduate means, so you need to put a limit on this kind of thing. And it’s a really difficult kind of challenge to do that because it feels like it defeats the purpose of a koha entirely.

MIRIAMA: So a lot of those kinds of experiences that you think are kind of routine things that you just go through with research – you take so much from them. The back and forth with the ethics committee, doing the reading group at the same time: I found it fascinating and I found it a point of real reflection and it took up a good section in my masters, just trying to talk through and work through and think through that.


MIRIAMA: But the other thing was, you know, in terms of knowledge production. I often, as you do, you often find it in places that you’re not really looking for it. So a lot of it, you know, was sort of trawling through comments from Māori users online and looking at the way that dialogue and responses and things like that are produced and knowledge is produced in reaction to something that’s happened relative to Māori policy or, you know, quote unquote positioned as a Māori issue in the media. So there were so many things I think that were unexpected, both in terms of the pandemic, but also in terms of this is the research process. You know, these are things that there’s always going to be things that surprised you.

MIRIAMA: I think the thing that probably surprised me the most was how much of a personal stake you realise you have in things and how your personal life can kind of determine the ( I should’ve known that’s already being an undergrad), but the pace of things and the way that you approach things. We lost my grandmother, I think the night that we went into lockdown, level four lockdown.

PAULINE: I’m so sorry

MIRIAMA: This drama queen, we thought, of course! But you know, there are a number of losses and personal grief that you kind of experience that totally change the trajectory of what you’re looking at and what concerns you and opens your eyes up to a lot of things that you may not have looked at before. I think the knowledge production thing is just surprising. It was a surprising journey to me – I should have known – but it’s always, of course, on reflection that you think about these kinds of things.

PAULINE: And that’s such a good point because it’s always a surprise – no matter how experienced you get – that research process, the things you see, and that’s why it’s so important to go and see each new thing with a fresh perspective.


PAULINE: I’m just thinking for our international listeners. Rochelle, do you want to take us through just a brief explanation of kaupapa Māori and what that approach is?

ROCHELLE: Yeah, sure. And I can liken it to, you know, to how we have had to pivot. So I’ve got some examples there too. So I mean, ordinarily, like myself, my methodology with kaupapa Māori – it can be quantitative or qualitative methods –it’s actually very flexible in that extent. However, by and large, you will find qualitative tends to marry quite nicely with kaupapa Māori, maybe because of the kanohi ki te kanohi (the face to face) and our storytelling narrative – that’s a great way to engage with people, and the reporting back.

ROCHELLE: I had a chuckle when you were saying about that harassment thing from ethics. Yeah, they don’t understand our methodologies. These are probably people on ethics that are pretty good, but by and large, if ethics is not set up well, doesn’t understand kaupapa Māori methodology and our ways in what’s okay, actually more than okay. What is suitable, what is culturally appropriate for us will be pulled up by ethics and they’ll go, “No, but why? And no, no”. And yes, so there’s a wee bit of catching up to do there, a bit of alignment needed. Hopefully that’ll come in time for the students that come through.

ROCHELLE: Yes, so reporting back, you know, making sure that this co-design on consulting, consulting with Māori in the first place about how do they really want to even go about it? Making sure we report back the findings, finding consensus, having a kaumātua (respected elder in Māori society) at these sort of things: they will sort of monitor reporting back hui (meeting) and bring us to a point of consensus and draw the hui to a conclusion. That’s all sort of kaupapa Māori. The research processes sit within our tikanga. So I mean things like koha are a part of it.

ROCHELLE: That’s a part of our everyday culture, and we bring that into our research. Karakia (prayers, chants or incantations): opening our hui etc with karakia and closing with it as well. Kai: having a kai, whether that’s meeting with your participants, maybe just having a bit of whanaungatanga (relationship building) in the lead up to doing research or it could have been, like with me, your reporting back hui. We put on a kai to say thank you. So that’s kaupapa Māori: it’s basically our cultural practises and we bring those research processes – which like I said, are very flexible – aboard, but done in a way that is aligned with our tikanga, our customs and protocols.

ROCHELLE: And just an example of how I’ve had to pivot: during my time at the Ministry of Health, I’ve been involved (particularly since November of last year) with a big piece of work, which is public: the Mental Health Act repeal and replacement. So a huge project, a really important space to be consulting with Māori on. So being a researcher, I found myself in that consultation process and of course, we found ourselves in the Delta lockdown over that time as well. And it was really hard, really, really hard on our communities. We were consulting with whanau, with tangata whai ora (a person seeking health: Sir Mason Durie) that’s people with lived experience of mental health and addiction. Also with Māori providers, you know, the actual health providers that are out there in the community, kaupapa Māori services as well as Māori clinicians, clinical staff… we needed to consult with a wide range, a diverse range of Māori of all different backgrounds and there we were, stuck with computers and online and some whanaut, of course, are remote with not very good connections

ROCHELLE: . I just can’t speak highly enough of the first of all, my team at the ministry. I’m in an all Māori team and so we had to quickly pivot. We consulted quickly with colleagues and close contacts who were in organisations around us and also our lived experience advisers were very, very important to this consultation to find out: “is going to be OK?”. And we got their advice and look, our communities, our whanau, our tangata whai ora, they just came through. They saw the mahi. They wanted to do the mahi. The kaupapa was really important to them, and pivot they did. And I just can’t speak highly enough. And no, it wasn’t ideal. We would have much rather had been face to face doing hui around the motu (the country). That wasn’t going to be possible, and we needed to keep our communities and our most vulnerable safe. And so it wouldn’t have even been feared to have tried to do hui because people wouldn’t have been able to come or they would have been at risk of maybe getting Delta and then taking it back home to the whanau and to kaumātua, and that would have been unfair.

ROCHELLE: So the fairest thing, the kindest thing to do for everybody was to continue with the mahi, but to do it in the way we could. So everything was always opened with karakia, whanaungatanga, and we used all the tikanga we know how to use as Māori in our online consultation and engagement with our really valued Māori stakeholders.


ROCHELLE: I had the job of lots of reporting back, so lots of e-mail harassment Miriama, lots of having to email back with notes and feedback and collating notes and then back again but you know, that’s just the way we had to do it. And look, I love it. I didn’t have one complaint saying, “Hey, there’s been too many emails”. Quite the opposite. It’s “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you”. You keep people informed and engaged, and they loved that they were able to continue to be involved. So, yeah, look, Māori are the most flexible of them all, they really are. And but yeah, it’s been great to sort of come back out the other end.

ROCHELLE: Hui is starting to ramp up a little bit again now, but we do it all with masks and we’re all vaxxed and stuff like that. So, you know, we keep our tikanga, but we know how to pivot and we know how to work within the constraints that we’re dealing with at the time.

PAULINE: That’s right. And Marama Muru-Lanning, she’s done some really interesting research on how a lot of that tikanga has had to change over COVID. There’s really been a lot of interesting tensions that have been revealed with COVID, particularly around ethics, and it’s not a new thing either. Another colleague, Rosa Perandt, at one conference around the anthropology of childhood, she donned a shark suit at a very formal academic conference sort of a shark onesie, she turned her back to the audience and spoke in the voice of her young participants. She was looking at HIV and young children who were pretty much running the household because of older people who had died.

PAULINE: And they were saying things like, Who are you to tell me my voice can’t be used? And there was a big discussion, and this is an ongoing discussion around the tensions between one particular approach that really has the best intentions in mind of protecting participants because of imperialist and colonialist practises of the past, but then also ratifying that with participants who also have the right to be named if they wish to be named; to not have that paternalistic kind of old “it’s better for you. You don’t know the bad things that can happen in the big, wide world.” And certainly I’ve had participants before who are conducting illegal activities in other countries, not morally illegal but illegal, according to the politics of that particular place and time who don’t want to sign ethics forms because that comes with a whole other punitive kind of set of mores.

PAULINE: So I can certainly understand then that it is something that constantly comes up with ethics, different systems of legal ramifications needing to be thought about, and law and protections on that side, and then also with different approaches and people wanting to protect themselves in other ways. And that’s a constant ongoing learning experience I think for all researchers and all participants and humans. So, Miriama, do you think things will continue to shift and change in this space of how research is conducted and how research will look in the future?

MIRIAMA: I think so. I think the pandemic has shown us how completely rapidly we can change and shift and pivot as we need to. And obviously, with the pandemic (and you have something like a global health crisis) that is a bit of a blunt force trauma to push you in that direction, even if you weren’t thinking about going there. So, you know, as Rochelle said as well in the kaupapa Māori front, tikanga has always been flexible and adaptable and it’s needed to change and to remain that kind of flexible, fluid sort of operation to be able to adapt to all of the changes that can come on really rapidly and have historically come on really rapidly for Māori. Absolutely there’s ample opportunity there, and I can see the directions that different kind of researchers are pursuing and looking at.

MIRIAMA: And I’m really proud of some of the work that I’ve done alongside my post-graduate colleagues that are doing masters and PhDs like Rochelle that we’ve all kind of demonstrated to ourselves… I mean, that’s a significant challenge, and I think post-graduate supports were really good, but we found ourselves drawing on each other a lot of the time to sort of remain committed to pursuing the endgame, if you will, making sure that we all kind of submitted our work. And so much was kind of thrown up with the pandemic that a lot of the time it seemed much more impossible. And I think having had that pandemic at least personally happened,

MIRIAMA: in you know, the May sort of period. I think I was on track. In honours I felt like: “I know what I want to do and where I’m going and everything. And to have that kind of throw everything up and really challenge you and challenge you as a researcher to think rapidly and on your feet and stick with things. Yeah, I’m really excited by the possibilities. A lot of the work that is coming out of Māori studies, that is coming out of social anthropology, the social sciences, Pacific studies – has demonstrated that, you know, there’s a lot of emerging researchers that are incredibly capable, incredibly capable, and are producing amazing work alongside the communities that they’re working with.

PAULINE: Oh yeah. That’s great. You’re absolutely right, there’s been so much produced under such difficult circumstances by people who are still finding their way and don’t necessarily have those support structures in place, you know, officially through academic channels. And it’s certainly is a testament to both of you and to a lot of early career researchers out there that they’ve managed to continue and be able to do research at all while surviving and caring for families and doing other things.


PAULINE: Rochelle, what is next for you? You are both heading offshore, Rochelle, you’re off to Perth. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

ROCHELLE: That’s right. And look, this is my own little COVID story, too, you know of the impacts. So my my two older children had headed off (my son first) to Brisbane four years ago for a bit of a fresh start. The cost of living crisis that we are hearing about… a lot of young couples, young people that we’ve been feeling this for quite a few years, you know, a lot longer than the pandemic. And he was one of those, went to Brisbane for a bit of a fresh start, and my daughter went on an OE (overseas experience). So they’ve both ended up in Australia eventually. But the pandemic really affected us because of the closed borders. We couldn’t be coming back and forth and I couldn’t go there to see them. They couldn’t come back and I ended up having a little granddaughter born during the pandemic, and I’ve had to watch her grow up on video calls. So it’s been hard, as a mama and grandma now with two beautiful mokapuna. I found it really, really hard. My heart strings have pulled so while

ROCHELLE: I’m incredibly grateful for the amazing kaupapa I’ve been privileged to be involved in, I had my own whanau story sort of going along in the background, which was that, you know, I was missing them dreadfully and it was so hard, especially my son and his partner after baby Sage was born. They were really struggling not having whanau over there to support them, that us grandparents couldn’t be there. Their mental health was – not suffering – but they didn’t have the mental wellbeing they should have if they’d had whanau support. And it’s very much our tikanga, Miriama. It’s such an important part of whanau extended family is that we are there when the tamariki are born. Because we know important it is to support young parents in more ways than one, not just support the baby, but sometimes they need socio economic support of other kinds as well. So although I could help them out with things like that, I couldn’t be there in the capacity I wanted to be and that was hard. That broke my heart a few times. So yeah, the time’s come to go.

ROCHELLE: I feel really, really torn that it’s taken me a long time to make this decision to have to leave my whenua. Having come into a way, having to leave the Kaupapa I’ve trained in and worked in all these years, however, there is a lot of Māori over there years. And so I’m hoping to be able to still find my space where I can still continue to contribute and also to their indigenous space over there. And although this are a lot of similarities with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their inequities, there’s also some key differences. And so I’m quite excited to get myself more competent around their cultures over there and to see what work I can do in that space for their indigenous peoples, but also for our own who are over there, and we do have quite a significant Māori population there. So yeah, it’s quite exciting and I still hope to do work. I’m hoping I can still collaborate with colleagues.

PAULINE: Well, certainly this pandemic and lockdown has shown us that it is possible and indeed that we all very capable of doing that. I’m sorry to hear that you were separated from your family, but it is wonderful that you will be seeing them shortly. And for those listeners who aren’t familiar with the research life, that is quite a common trajectory that you will do a degree at one particular place and then it’s expected that you go to other countries, other places, other universities to continue your learning and your research trajectory, which can often be at odds with things like social support in terms of family and also in terms of the cost of moving and living and having to get r- acclimatised and refamiliarise yourself with different cultures in different places. So Miriama, you are going to be doing exactly that. The next big step –conducting a Ph.D. in another country that you want to tell us a little bit more about how that came about and where you are off to?

MIRIAMA: Sure. Yeah, I think I’ll just acknowledge. Rochelle, as a grandmother, that’s beautiful. My mum’s also in the same boat. My older sister had her pēpē in November, the day after my birthday, and I was in lockdown. I couldn’t go down. The only one that could be there was our younger sister. And they’ve gone through similar things, not being able to have that whanau support. It’s, that’s everything. So yeah, I really, really want to acknowledge that, and I’m so happy for you to have that – to be heading over there. That’s neat.

MIRIAMA: I’m headed to Cambridge, not in the Waikato, unfortunately and fortunately (I have whanau down there and that’s a joke my father has made on several occasions). I’m headed to Cambridge in September, which has come up a lot sooner than I had expected. And I was really fortunate, really, really fortunate to be named as the recipient of the Wolf Fisher Scholarship for this year, which is, you know, a scholarship for three to four years of study, full time study, at Cambridge and the three to four years I was really happy about because I thought, I don’t know anyone that’s done their PhD in under three years. Actually, I do know one person, Lana Lopesi who did hers in two and a half with two kids. I don’t know how she did it, but remarkable. But that’s the only person I know of. But yes, so the three to four year thing was a good pull for me.

MIRIAMA: But actually, you know, upon reflection with my MA and not having a lot of time to think about it and having put so much thought into the previous MA project, which has been shelved for a later time, I think, I wanted to give myself as much time as possible to really think about the project, to think about the work, to think about where would be most appropriate, where do I need to kind of give myself to? And I really felt like there’s a lot of work to still be done in the welfare space.


MIRIAMA: You know, we’ve had the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report out since 2019, and very few of those recommendations have been pulled up and implemented and throughout the course of my MA, of course, as Rochelle has identified, I think I read one of your reports that you contributed to Koi Tu on loneliness, perhaps and maybe one around devices with young kids.

ROCHELLE: With Ngāti Whātua?

MIRIAMA: Yeah, that’s the one. So I’ve read some of Rochelle’s stuff and she’s brilliant, of course. Obviously we’ve identified that there is still this ongoing… I don’t want to say vulnerability because I think it’s… it’s groups that are made vulnerable and groups made marginalised that are still enduring these effects. And if we’re feeling it (I consider myself in a very, very privileged position), if we’re feeling it, the kind of impacts that this is having on particular groups is really significant.

MIRIAMA: So I think there’s been a number of initiatives that I looked at. Te Hiku Iwi Development Trust had a wellbeing accord. Tūhoe Service Management Plan obviously looking at ways to kind of pursue a constitutional vision of tengero te tengehanga through wellbeing and through welfare. And I find that still really fascinating because when you look at the pace of policy, it’s so slow. It’s so incremental. And since we’ve kind of implemented the Social Security Act in 1938 I think, that was a world leading piece of legislation. And since then, it’s really moved at an incremental snail’s pace. And so I’m really interested in looking at the kind of everyday impacts of that slow violence, what that does to people. How do people make meaning out of their relationships, both to the crown, but also operating as as Māori and moving through the world as Māori with these kinds of restraints placed on their lives, not being able to fully engage with the communities that they belong to. So that was a somewhat brief sort of overview of what I’m interested in.

MIRIAMA: But of course, the project had to come first. I was sitting in on the kinds of different meetings that you do at university. Someone had raised the question, you know, are you going to review these hiring practises around PhD students and postdocs and are you going to be looking more internally because of COVID and the essential response was: “Well, no, not really. We’re still going to be looking at international experience”. I think it’s a disservice to a lot of the students and the expertise that we’re producing through here. But particularly as Māori researchers, we are international and we are world leading, and there is a lot of expertise that can’t be produced anywhere else. So it is really a loss in that sense. But it’s also, of course, that you’ve got to make an opportunity out of it.

MIRIAMA: I needed to sort of look internationally, and I wasn’t interested in the long term projects in the US, I think of three or four years would be good for a project, but any longer, I think I might start to tear my hair out. So three to four years and yeah, I wanted to make sure that I that I had the right support to do it, that I could access sort of opportunities. You know, you kind of want as much support as you can get with a Ph.D. So know, I looked at Cambridge and it’s funny, you know, I didn’t talk to anyone about it, really. I just sort of carried on with teaching and tutoring and doing bits and bobs of research. The process was supposed to be in person and of course, Delta hit. And so it was all online and that actually somehow worked out better because I felt more acclimatised to online stuff by that stage. So I went through an interview process. I went through an application that was shortlisted. The interview was delayed a couple of months. I was on a panel with 10 people and I managed to scrape through the interview. And yeah, it was sort of the most absurd news I’ve ever received and the most unreal.

MIRIAMA: And the plan was that, you know, if it doesn’t work out, it’s fine. I’d be more than happy, more than happy to remain in Māori studies and social anthropology. And the plan was actually to get a cat as a consolation prize.

PAULINE: Were you going to call it, Wolf, Wolf Fisher.

MIRIAMA: Just taunting me. As I’ve said before, put off one dream off in service of another. So the cat will come later.

PAULINE: Well, congratulations. Cambridge is incredibly prestigious, and you’ve really demonstrated through all the research you’ve been doing here that, as you say, you are a world class international researcher and it’s fantastic that (we will be losing you for a short time), for a wonderful opportunity for you, but that you will hopefully be returning with some really interesting findings. And you’re not the first person to go to Cambridge from anthropology on the Wolf Fisher. I believe Sally Raudon is there as well, completing her doctorate and we will put links to all the various people we’ve mentioned here in the show notes, as always. And if there anything that you want to check, like tikanga, etc.  we’ll make an effort to put as comprehensive show notes as we can for this show in particular.


PAULINE: Do I have any final thoughts that either of you would like to leave us with in concluding, Rochelle, do you have anything you’d like to finish off with?

ROCHELLE: Well, I want to say a big congratulations to Miriama and look meant to be. Like you, same philosophy and I’m the sort of person that would (I’ve already got a cat which I can’t show off). I always think, oh, you know, it’s not a problem, it’s just meant to be. You’re supposed to be going over. And look, on my own note, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do once I sort of headed over to Perth and I think I’m up to interview number five now: all research fellow roles and all in various ways link up with some aspect of research I’ve done, whether it’s my PhD., whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s my youth interest…

ROCHELLE: It’s really encouraging actually to hear what you two have both been saying and I’ve been feeling a little bit like ( I don’t want to say traitor, it’s too strong a word), but do you know what I mean? I’ve trained up in Kaupapa Māori and Māori Health and I have felt a little bit like: “Am I dropping the ball and letting my people down?” Even though my whanau gave me, you know, I get the whanau together and I keep saying to myself, whanau first, whanau first, you know, I’ve got to do this for the whanau. These opportunities have just been opening up and opening up for me, at least at this stage, interview wise, which I think is a small success in itself. And, you know, in a lot of them are involved with working with their indigenous communities. So yeah, I’m hoping to take mine over there.

ROCHELLE: It was really neat to hear you guys talking about how that whole post-doc research fellow space. That we kind of got an expectation that we travel and, you know, broaden our horizons a bit and expand our minds, and I’ve got an uncle who’s always said that, that travel and going overseas expands your mind in ways that wouldn’t happen if you stayed at home. So maybe that’s what we both need to be doing Miriama.

PAULINE:. Thank you, Rochelle, and thank you so much for coming on the show today. It’s been an absolute privilege to have you here.

ROCHELLE: And thank you for having me.

PAULINE: We certainly appreciate you making the time. Nga mihi nui. Miriama, do you have any thoughts you’d like to leave us with before we close off?

MIRIAMA: Just a few. I think I want to acknowledge Rochelle and you, Pauline. Thank you so much for having me today. I thought, “Oh God, I’ve got to do this. But it’s been interesting coming back on campus and trying to reacquaint yourself with how we do the social thing. So this has been fantastic, obviously, but I think I wanted to acknowledge some of the some of the Māori reporters that were that were doing that work in 2020, as Rochelle said. You know, I go through my bibliography and it’s just article after article of what they were doing. And so much of that was sort of it was only them that was that was picking up on it. So a lot of our Māori media reporters, a lot of our Māori researchers, our Māori communities that sort of just stepped up and got on with the checkpoints. The amount of work across different Māori communities and across so many different spaces that people were actioning. You know, I hope that that our work has in some small way been a contribution to all of that matauranga that was being produced, but also all of that work that people just had boots on the ground and were doing. I think it’s made to be – heading back to Australia, heading over to Australia and saying, you’re right, whanua first. That’s always got to be in the forefront of our minds. And if anything, over the last few years has shown us, that really is whanua first. So a small, small step to something, something brand new. Yeah. And I wish you all the best, Rochelle. Yeah, yeah.

ROCHELLE: You too. You too. Yeah, I think this is the gift ourselves to the world, Miriama is taking our ways, our wharua, our thinking, the way we approach things with our Māori perspective, it is our gift to when we go overseas. You know, what are we actually giving to them? We bring a lot with us. So I think it’s that’s important to remember as we take our skills. They’re lucky to have us. And I also look just when I thought you were just saying, you know what, our iwi have done, what our Māori providers have done, particularly in the health sector, the kaupapa Māori health providers, our clinical staff, our Māori in that space as well. And the social, you know, the sort of community and social and welfare type agencies as well. The kind mahi, you know, the Māori that are volunteers, that it’s absolutely incredible. Our ability to strategically operationalise in record time is just unbelievable. And I’ve just been so proud to be a Māori during all of this, disheartened that I know it hit our communities so, so hard.

ROCHELLE: But at the same time, when you look and you see our response as our pandemic response has been, you know, second to none. Absolutely unbelievable. And yeah, it’s been an absolute privilege for me to be able to work alongside a lot of them, particularly in the last year. And just to hear that about the boots on the ground, that flaxroots mahi that’s going on, in even having a wee hand in making sure funding gets through to community initiatives that could support psychosocial wellbeing for youth etc or during the extended lockdowns. And they’re just absolutely phenomenal, what our people are doing. And unfortunately, the media who are amazing, a lot of our reporters in particular and they are amazing, but trust me, there’s a lot we are just not hearing about. There is some absolutely amazing mahi going on in the communities. And you know, I just I want to see more of that. That’s where I want to see. That’s really what’s going to be key and that’s what’s going to be the big, the big game changer, the change agent for our people and for our health and inequities, is starting to really resource communities, you know, to help whanau to be well and stay well because we know what we need and we know what works for us. And we just need to be supported and resourced to do so.


PAULINE: Well, thank you to both of you. This has been absolutely fantastic, just speaking with you both. You’ve been listening to Dr. Pauline Herbst in conversation with Dr. Rochelle Menzies and Miriama Aoake about kaupapa Māori research over the COVID pandemic. You’re also listening to Pandemics Reflected, a show about the research lives behind COVID research. In the next episode will be speaking to Professor Susanna Trnka about lockdown bubbles and her work on digital health during a time when the world went digital.