A researcher from Northland has been awarded nearly $5 million for a study which will investigate environmental and kaupapa Māori initiatives aimed at improving health outcomes.

Helen Moewaka Barnes, who is of Te Kapotai and Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu descent and hails from Waikare, has been awarded $4,999,332 from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) for her research programme Tangata Whenua Tangata Ora.

She is only the second Māori woman to be awarded this HRC programme grant.

"I'm really excited. It means a lot," Moewaka Barnes said.


"The first thing is, it's great to have that money and that resource so to be able to take that planned strategic approach to what we're doing, to what communities are doing, to what we know people want to do.

"But I think as important is that people are really excited because it's really seen as validating what people are doing in their communities, and understanding that their knowledge, expertise and their skills are seen as being able to contribute," she said.

Moewaka Barnes, who is a professor from Massey University's SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre, said the research programme places relationships between people and the natural environment as being central to understandings of supporting health.

"We know that relationships with the environment are critical to our social, cultural, spiritual and physical wellbeing. But research, particularly holistic and indigenous focused research, is sparse," she said.

The research will explore health models and initiatives informed by kaupapa Māori which will help the team gain an understanding about what is or is not working, to ultimately develop new initiatives aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

"People are doing amazing things but often we're not learning from each other, and we're not taking those learnings beyond our communities because people are working so hard on the challenges in front of them. So I think research has a role to play in what we can bring to those communities," she said.

Moewaka Barnes will lead the team of researchers, advisors, collaborators and community partners from around New Zealand, as well as the United States and Canada.

The research programme will begin on August 1.