A doctoral journey can be isolating and difficult to navigate, especially for scholars from indigenous cultures.
It was the support of student group MAI ki Aronui though that helped Sierra Keung over the finish line with its whanaungatanga, manaaki, and aroha.
"The opportunity to finally have a space to talk openly, critique respectfully, and be supported in our PhD journey as indigenous researchers, unapologetically, in a Western-dominant space was invaluable," says Keung, of Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata and Chinese decent.
"There are rules that we have to abide by on the academic side, but there are also rules or better put, tikanga, that we must abide by on the indigenous side, and most times – they clash."
Keung is the first member of AUT’s MAI (Māori and Indigenous) group to graduate since it was recently revived by Dr Jani Wilson, Māori media Lecturer in Te Ara Poutama.
The group of PhD candidates meet on a Saturday morning once a month to talk about their work and experiences, as well as to share food and indigenous song and group dancing.
Senior academic speakers are invited to speak on topics such as what is being looked for in a PGR9, or how to write a great abstract.
Wilson co-ordinates MAI ki Aronui and says watching its members develop encourages her to keep going.
"I believe in building leaders who ... are going to take the next generation into the future of what academia could be. Not what it always has been,” she says.
"This university puts a lot of emphasis on the three values of tika, pono and aroha. Here at MAI we absolutely practise it and exercise those things."
PhD candidate Diana Albarrán González is native Latin American from Mexico with Nahua, P’urhépecha, Spanish and Japanese heritage.
She says being a member of MAI ki Aronui has helped her a lot as an indigenous Mexican.
“When I joined MAI more than a year ago, I was a little bit hesitant because I thought it was purely Māori and Pasifika mostly,” she says.
“But it's very much about caring and supporting, manaaki, and rooting in our own cultures in order to create better in-depth research with respect.”
This month 18 MAI ki Aronui members attended the annual National MAI Doctoral Conference with other such groups from around the country. It was held at Puketeraki Marae in North Otago.
MAI groups are supported by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (New Zealand’s Māori Centre for Research Excellence).