8 March, 2020
Many know MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Dr Pauline Harris for her work in Māori astronomy, and traditional calendar systems, but may not realise she also has a PhD in physics. What made her join the MacDiarmid Institute at this time?
“Sustainability is central for Māori and indigenous people, and to see it at the core of the work of the MacDiarmid Institute was something I wanted to be part of. There’s a willingness within the Institute to really focus on the future of our planet, and for sustainability to not be just a word to be thrown around but a word to be actioned. And the MacDiarmid leadership really understand that.”
She sees her role as adding to the kaupapa. “I’m trying to act as a bridge to what Māori need and want. Communities are already telling me what’s worrying them – environmental issues, health issues, and the want for a more sustainable world.
I want to build a picture of what we as Māori would like organisations such as MacDiarmid to focus on in their research, to enable the healing of our lands and waters. For Māori we understand that we are the water and we are the land, that gives us a unique perspective. A perspective that sees the need to heal the earth.”
Dr Harris, who was this year appointed to a new leadership position with the Institute – Māori Science Leader on the Institute’s Science Executive Committee – says it was great to be asked to step into this role.
“I really appreciated being acknowledged for my experience and what I can contribute to the committee for both my knowledge as a physicist and in mātauranga Māori. The mātauranga Māori will always be a focal point for me, because I am Māori and I am passionate about seeing my people flourish and my culture. But it’s also nice that the MacDiarmid know of my research and experience in astrophysics as well as knowing that I have actually even made conductive polymers in my career as well. I feel seen and acknowledged for who I am.”
Up next for Dr Harris in this role is to get talking with communities. “I want to have meaningful conversations with our whānau in different iwi, in order to determine what sort of issues are important to them – especially around environmental degradation, and issues with land, water and air.
These conversations are already underway, but I want to have more, if communities are willing, and to then have a look to see what the MacDiarmid Institute can help develop, in order to contribute to solving these problems, using materials science. No one organisation will have all the answers, but everybody has a role to play.
“With the MacDiarmid, there’s a genuine willingness and desire to work with Māori and indigenous people, and to develop technologies that seriously address our environmental issues that the world is facing.
By leading in this area, MacDiarmid could potentially have a huge role in opening the eyes of other organisations, about where we need to focus our efforts, and how important it is to hold meaningful discussions with the indigenous people of the land in order to build genuine relationships and collaborations based on shared values.”