Rangitāne leader and kaumatua Manahi Paewai has been awarded an honorary doctorate, the highest academic accolade, in recognition of his dedication and contribution to Māori education.
Paewai was awarded a Doctor of Education, Honoris Causa at a special ceremony to honour Massey University Māori graduates in Palmerston North.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori, Professor Meihana Durie said Paewai was a very deserving recipient who had shown an unwavering commitment to education as a pathway for Māori futures, a commitment that had been especially evident in his leadership with Rangitāne o Tāmaki nui a Rua, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tāmaki Nui ā Rua but also in navigating outcomes across a number of critical issues at iwi, hapū and community levels.
Paewai graduated from Massey in 2005 with a Graduate Diploma in Māori Development to build on his earlier teaching qualification and has made an immeasurable contribution to the university over many decades.
From the earliest days of the Te Kupenga o Te Mātauranga Marae on the Hokowhitu Campus in the 1980s to the opening and naming of Toi Te Ora, at Te Pūtahi-a-Toi in 2018, Dr Paewai has been a leading light and a strong supporter of Kaupapa Māori at Massey, helping Māori students, staff and whānau, hapū and iwi members to study at Massey University in programmes including Te Aho Tātairangi, Toioho ki Āpiti and Te Aho Paerewa.
Durie says Paewai's commitment to Māori education has been demonstrated by his active participation and leadership in university events of significance, including the facilitation of wānanga to explore matters of scholarly importance to Māori, his cultural leadership and advice on matters relating to Māori education, Iwi engagement and Mātauranga ā Iwi.
"His passion for Māori success, for Te Reo Māori and Mātauranga, has guided university leaders and also inspired new generations of Māori students, some of whom are here with us today.
"The totality of Dr Paewai's impact, though difficult to measure, has undoubtedly been transformational."
Paewai says he was proud to have his whānau, kura kids and many people he knew from over the years, attend the ceremony where he received the honorary doctorate.
"It's all a bit surreal really. I've been to many of these functions over the years and you sit in the audience and come to support somebody, usually the kids from our kura or family members. I've seen a lot of people receive PhDs and honorary doctorates and you enjoy that, never really thinking that one day it might be me.
"It was something I had not ever thought of, never in my wildest dreams."
He enjoyed the moment and wanted to acknowledge his "olds" whom he credits for helping him to do the work he has achieved.
"They allowed me to do the work that I did because they gave me the information. They're the ones that should be wearing this, not me. I tried to express that to the graduands in my speech that they shouldn't forget to acknowledge [their elders] every day because that's where all the knowledge comes from."
Back home Paewai is still pinching himself.
He said he just wanted to promote Maori education for the sake of the iwi and was never after any award.
He said he is very grateful to all those who helped him along the way.
The honour was great but he said he just wanted to stay grounded and get on with promoting the culture and the rangitahi in their journeys.
Paewai's accolades include being made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Māori in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours and becoming a recipient of Creative New Zealand's Ngā Tohu ā Tā Kingi Ihaka, Sir Kingi Ihaka Awards, recognising a lifetime contribution to strengthening Māori art and culture in 2017.
This was the first time conferment of the award of Doctor of Education (Honoris Causa) has been held at the Celebration to Honour Māori Graduates rather than the main Massey Graduation in recognition of the significance of this award to Māori.