Doctorate took 10 years to get right

By Yvonne Tahana

Professor Ranginui Walker told Joe Te Rito to hurry up and finish his doctorate - and 10 years later, he has done just that.

Today, the 54-year-old is celebrating with 53 other students at Waipapa Marae's Maori graduation after their Auckland University capping ceremony yesterday.

Dr Te Rito's politics and culture thesis studied his Ngati Hinemanu hapu from Omahu near Hastings.

In 1997, as Professor Walker was retiring from the university, Dr Te Rito became his last graduate student.

"He kept telling me to hurry up all the time but I had to get it right," he said. It was finding time to study, not slackness, that held Dr Te Rito up.

He is a past head of Maori studies at the Eastern Institute of Technology, started Radio Kahungungu and was general manager of tikanga and te reo at Maori TV, before moving to work at Nga Pae o te Maramatanga research centre.

His thesis chronicles how his hapu's land block was gradually reduced from 2832ha in the mid-19th century to 121ha today, as well as modern "struggles" Omahu Maori have faced such as dealing with river degradation and pressure on waahi tapu [sacred places].

"It's really about us fighting for the rights of our people. Our community [Omahu] is a microcosm of the bigger story of colonisation and our response to it," Dr Te Rito said.

Whanau members - four bus loads came from Hawkes Bay for the graduation - are already guarding the 10 copies circulating in the family.

Dr Walker, now an emeritus professor, encouraged Dr Te Rito to complete his doctorate after seeing him establish Maori studies at EIT.

"He did that in the heart of toffee-nosed country, where the landed gentry, the orchardists are. It's a flash college and here's a Maori who puts his foot in the door and gets Maori studies going, gets a marae on campus, brings in the pupils, the elders, the community and starts a Maori renaissance. Joe's a person who gets things done."

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