Stories of tīpuna recognised through whakapapa research

From European studies and Russian language to a Whakapapa Studentship at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Ereni Pūtere has had an interesting journey of discovery at the University of Canterbury, leading to her graduation with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) with First Class Honours in History today (Friday 16 April).

When Pūtere (nō Moeraki, Taumutu, Awarua whenua, nō Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha, nō Te Ātiawa ki Taranaki hoki) started at UC she had her sights set on becoming a diplomat and completing a degree in European Union Studies and History, with a minor in Russian. However, Pūtere reassessed her goals and set her sights on pursuing mātauraka (knowledge) closer to home by looking to her Kāi Tahu tīpuna and whakapapa.

During her undergraduate studies at UC, Pūtere started researching the Ngāi Tahu tribal register, dubbed the ‘Blue Book’, through the Whakapapa Studentship at the Whakapapa Unit of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. The register was originally created in 1925 to record the descendants of Ngāi Tahu tūpuna (ancestors) alive in 1848. However, as Pūtere points out in her research there are complications in the recording of whakapapa which has had a significant impact on whānau and their rakatirataka (agency).

Through her mahi and commitment to learn more about her whakapapa, Pūtere sought to further her knowledge by conducting postgraduate research in History at UC funded through a Ngāi Tahu Research Centre Postgraduate Scholarship. Ereni’s honours dissertation identified the inaccuracies in the recording of her tīpuna, Mereana Teitei and her tamariki, in Mantell’s Census of 1848 and its effect on her tīpuna at the time and her whānau today. Her dissertation sought to remedy the erasure of her tīpuna from the historical record of the census and reframe our understanding of how we read the colonial records in light of the lived experiences and mamae that Māori carry in their whakapapa.

As a result of her hard work and in recognition of the significance of her research, Pūtere has been awarded the UC Aho Hīnātore | Accelerator Scholarship. This will allow her to continue her research into Kāi Tahu whakapapa processes for her PhD. This research has the opportunity to provide a wealth of knowledge about Kāi Tahu whakapapa, however this is not without its challenges. All of her research has to be conducted in a culturally respectful manner that is historically accurate whilst upholding not only the mana of her tīpuna but also the mana of her whānau and iwi.

As one of the few Māori postgraduate students in her department, Pūtere was fortunate enough to find three supervisors who have supported her to complete her honours research and go on to doctoral studies. They are historians from the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre| Kā Waimaero at UC who have extensive experience in cross-cultural research and inquiry. Emeritus Professor Phillipa Mein Smith served as co-director for the Centre for Colonialism and its Aftermath, based at the University of Tasmania, and is the author of several history books. Associate Professor Te Maire Tau is Director of the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre and Ūpoko (rūnanga head) of Te Ngāi Tūahuriri Rūnanga, mana whenua of Ōtautahi/Christchurch, who is an expert on Ngāi Tahu oral traditions. Lecturer Martin Fisher is an expert on the settlement of Te Kerēme, Ngāi Tahu’s multi-generational claim against the Crown for its ill-treatment of the iwi. 

The journey of Pūtere during her time at UC has been one of personal growth and grounding through the research of whakapapa. There was something special in Pūtere being able to record the Kāi Tahutaka, stories and experiences of her whānau and tīpuna. When she walks across the graduation stage to receive her BA(Hons) with First Class Honours in History at UC’s College of Arts ceremony today, her whānau will be in the crowd cheering her on, alongside her tīpuna, filled with immense pride for what she has achieved so far and the stories she will tell in the near future.