Topics: Health, Rereātea - Midday News

Professors honoured for contribution to indigenous health

By Jessica Tyson, Regan Paranihi
  • South Island
Associate Professor Pitama. Source: University of Otago

Two Māori and Pacific professors from the University of Otago, Suzanne Pitama and Lisa Matisoo-Smith, have been recognised at the 2018 New Zealand Research Honours.

Associate Professor Pitama, of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Whare, has been awarded the Metge Medal for her influence on indigenous health education.

She is a founding director of the Māori Indigenous Health Institute at the university and a registered psychologist who has made a major contribution to developing new research for health professional education.

When she began her career in 2001, one hour was devoted to Māori health teaching in the three-year curriculum; now there are more than 60 hours.

"Being able to work in the field of Māori health - to support whānau, hāpu and iwi aspirations for health equity - is a privilege. This award reflects an acknowledgment of the communities and colleagues who have pioneered and championed this area, of whose work I am able to build upon," says Pitama.

“I am grateful for a supportive whānau, for my amazing Māori Indigenous Health Institute colleagues and those at the University of Otago who are part of a team addressing health inequities, and for our institution's commitment to support Māori health teaching and research."

Lisa Matisoo-Smith. Source: University of Otago.

Matisoo-Smith has been awarded the Mason Durie Medal for her research on human migration into the Pacific.

"While I feel honoured to receive this award, my work is really only possible through collaborations with communities and colleagues - it has been a privilege to work with them all,” says Matisoo-Smith.

A professor in the Department of Anatomy at the university, Matisoo-Smith is also an internationally renowned biological anthropologist.

Her recent work involved working alongside the Rangitāne o Wairau iwi to genetically examine the remains of their tupuna from the Wairau Bar- the first New Zealanders. 

In addition to understanding the migration and settlement history of New Zealand, her current work addresses numerous questions that remain unanswered, regarding the health of ancestral New Zealanders and how that has shaped the modern landscape of both health and disease.

In awarding this medal, the selection committee noted Matisoo-Smith's prominence in her research sphere internationally and says her commitment to work with indigenous people in such a way that deep mutual respect is built is exemplary.  

Pitama and Matisoo-Smith are two of six researchers recognised at the awards alongside Doctor Helen Taylor, Professor Brett Delahunt, Professor Emerita Carolyn Burns and Professor Barbara Brookes.