Dr Kura Paul-Burke studied early childcare education before finding her calling. Photo / George Novak 110920gn03bop.JPG
Dr Kura Paul-Burke will be speaking at the Escape! Festival. Photo / George Novak 110920gn04bop.JPG
Dr Kura Paul-Burke was drawn to everything Māori growing up. Photo / George Novak
Marine biologist Dr Kura Paul-Burke. Photo / George Novak 110920gn06bop.JPG
To be Māori was to not be seen.
It was to be unheard.
It was to be unspoken.
That's how Dr Kura Paul-Burke remembers her upbringing in Kawerau with her single-mother of Irish descent.
"I've always had a yearning for my Māoriness. I was always drawn to everything Māori even though it wasn't in my immediate environment."
Then, Paul-Burke, of Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Whakahemo and Ngāti Mākino, attended Turakina Māori Girls School where she says 99 per cent of the students were Māori.
"And it was like the beginning of what I had been looking for my whole life."
Kapa Haka and te reo Māori lessons were then a constant reality. It was a far cry from the life she had known.
"I grew up in that era when none of the teachers called me Kura, they called me by my English name and if children in my class had Māori names, which very, very few did, the teachers gave them a Pākehā name."
Fast forward to tertiary study where she found herself at the University of Waikato.
While Paul-Burke is now known for her work as a marine scientist, back then she was studying early childcare education.
It was a decision reserved for her son who was in kohanga reo at the time, but she describes it as the first place she found, where she belonged.
"They had set up a whānau unit and we all flourished. We weren't just learning western education, we were learning indigenous education and Māori education.
"It changed me. I didn't know until then that I struggled my whole life trying to find a place, where to be Māori was celebrated for real."
Her mentors soon became her colleagues as Paul-Burke realised she couldn't stay away - but her journey of connection was not over yet.
After a few years as a lecturer at the university, Paul-Burke met her free diving husband who took her into the water around Whakaari/White Island.
"Coming back on the boat I had an epiphany, 'I want to do this'. But I didn't want to get into the water and think 'what a pretty fish' I wanted to know as much about that fish and what it was eating and where it was living."
So, Paul-Burke found herself resigning from her job and enrolling as a first-year marine biology student, with five children.
Dive instructor, skipper, her masters and PhD are now under her belt after also enrolling in Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi in Whakatāne.
While university gave her the westernised science, it was her time at Awanuiārangi and now working with iwi that built her knowledge of mātauranga Māori, which is the baseline of her mahi as the University of Waikato's marine scientist.
Mātauranga Māori can be described as a complex and dynamic body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors which adapts and changes but does not lose its integrity nor sense of focus.
It is often localised knowledge which is grounded in a particular place and includes sets of understandings and experiences that are generated by whānau and hapū who have occupied and interacted with a particular place, the organisms and associated environs, over many consecutive generations.
It includes Māori world views, language, perspectives, principals, ethics and cultural practices.
Paul-Burke said the learning from iwi was never-ending and in her time she had worked collaboratively with them to help the restoration of mussel stocks in Ōhiwa Harbour after they were destroyed by starfish.
And now, she has been working with Niwa ship mapping the seafloor around Whakaari/White Island.
But through it all, the yearning she once had for her "Māoriness" has been fed.
"The ocean helped me to find what I was looking for.
"There is connectivity there because, when you go diving for kina, as an example, it is the same places that my ancestors went diving for kina and these are the same places my mokopuna will come to get to kina.
"I love our moana because when I think of moana I think of whakapapa, I think of my ancestors and the activity they did collecting kaimoana, and when I'm gone, it would be my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren doing the same thing at the same places and almost in the same way."
Kura Paul-Burke appears at Escape! at 2pm on October 17 in a session called 'Intersections:Whakawhitinga' where she and Shaun Hendy, the director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, a centre of research excellence at Auckland University, will discuss the benefits of using Mātauranga Māori, Māori knowledge, alongside Western science.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at Ticketek or in person at Baycourt Box Office.
Saturday, October 17:
• 9.30am - 10.30am: Searching for Charlie
• 11am - 12pm: Looking on the Dark Side
• 12.30pm - 1.30pm: Up with the Birds
• 2pm - 3pm: INtersections::Whakawhitianga
• 10am - 3pm: Tauranga Zinefest
• 10.30am, 12.30pm, 3.30pm: City Art Walk
Sunday, October 18:
• 8.30am - 9am: Habour Dip
• 9.30am - 10.30am: Dying for a Good Talk
• 11am - 12pm: Coming up for Air
• 12.30pm - 1.30pm: Only Solutions
• 2pm - 3pm: Love Letters
• 3.30pm - 4.30pm: Te Radar: Telling Tales
• 10.30am, 12.30pm: City Art Walk