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Elana Curtis

Elana Taipapaki Curtis is Ngāti Rongomai, Ngāti Pikiao (Te Arawa) and a Public Health Physician who contributes to Māori health teaching and research.

What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?

I te nuinga o te wā, ka haere ahau ki te whare wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau. Kei reira taku tari, ā, ka mahi ahau i runga i te rorohiko, ka tutaki ahau i ngā hoamahi rānei, ā, ka kōrero ahau ki ngā tauira Māori me ngā tauira o te Moana-nui-ā-Kiwa i whai ake i te kōrero tautoko, i te kōrero akiaki rānei. He maha ngā hui akoranga me ngā hui rangahau hoki. I ētahi rā, ka tu ahau i mua i ngā tauira hei ahorangi tūhono o te hauora Māori . I ētahi atu rā, ka noho ahau i tōku kainga ki te mahi tuhituhi akoranga.

I generally head to my office at the University of Auckland where I get on my computer, or meet with colleagues and also talk to Māori and Pacific students who may need some senior academic support and encouragement. I have many teaching meetings and research meetings. Some days I am in front of students lecturing as an Associate Professor on Māori health. Other days, I work from home so I can focus on academic writing outputs!

What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?

Ka kuraina ahau i te kura o Hato Karamea, kei te Rakipaewhenua o Tāmaki Makaurau. I ako ahau i ngā kaupapa pūtaiāo (ārā ko te matauranga koiora, matai matū), pāngarau, Ingarihi me te kaupapa tino pai rawa atu ki ahau, arā, ko te reo Māori. I whai muri i te kura, ka kuhu atu ahau ki roto i te kura rata, hei tauira rata Māori. Koira taku tino wāwata mai ngā rā i whakatipu ake ahau!

I went to high school at Carmel College on Auckland’s North Shore. At high school, I studied science (biology and chemistry), mathematics (with statistics), english and my favourite subject te reo Māori. After high school, I entered medical school as a Māori medical student. That had been my ultimate dream since I was young!

Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?

Āe rā! He tākuta Māori ahau ināianei. He ahorangi tūhono e pā ana ki te hauora o te iwi Māori me ngā iwi taketake o te āo. He kaiwhakahē ahau ki te pōharatanga o te iwi Māori, ki te aukati iwi o te āo Pākehā, me te mahi tāmitanga ki ngā iwi taketake katoa (i ngā wā o mua me ngā wā inaiānei).

Absolutely! I am now a Māori doctor. I work as an Associate Professor of Māori health and indigenous health more broadly. I work to expose the deprivation experienced by Māori, the racism of the Pākehā Western system in which we have to operate and the terrible impact of colonisation on indigenous peoples worldwide (both historical and contemporary).

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?

Kaua e wareware ki te moemoea! Kaua e whakaiti tō ‘pito mata’. Me tū kaha koe. Kei a koe ki te tū whakahīhī! Kei a koe ki te tū rangatira. Tukua! Koirā ngā wāwata ā kui mā, a koro mā.

Never stop dreaming! Never undermine your true potential. Stand tall and strong. You can stand proud in whatever you want to do. It’s up to you to decide your place in this world. Send it out to the universe and see what happens. In that way, you will truly be realising the dreams and aspiration of our ancestors, grandparents and loved ones.

What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?

He maha! I mahi ahau i roto i ngā hāpori Māori, i haere ki tāwahi (hei tipi haere ki ngā whenua o te āo), ā, i noho ahau i te whenua o Āmerika hei ‘Harkness Fellow in Heath Care Policy and Practice’. Ka riro au i te tohu ‘Ngārimu Doctoral Scholarship’ (ko te mea nui ka mutu e au i te tuhingaroa), te tohu ‘Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award’ mai te rōpū Ako Aotearoa me te tohu ‘Te Tupu-ā-Rangi mo te Hauora me te Pūtaiāo’ mai ngā  Tohu Matariki o te Whakaata Māori. Ēngari, ko te tino painga o te umanga e whāia e au – ko ōku tamāhine pūwari, ko tōku whanau. Koira te mea nui.

There are so many! From working in our Māori communities, backpacking around the world to living in the United States of America as a Harkness Fellow in Healthcare Policy and Practice. I have been privileged to receive a Ngārimu Māori Battalion doctoral scholarship (with the ultimate highlight being the finishing of my doctorate), a national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award from Ako Aotearoa and a Māori Television Te Tupu-ā-Rangi Matariki Award for Health and Science. However, I rate my greatest career achievement as including my very cute daughters and whanau. That really is the most important achievement of all!

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?

He tino take tēnei ki Aotearoa me te iwi Māori whānui. He kaipūtaiao ngā tīpuna! He kaipūtaiao tātou inaiānei! He tohunga kaiwhakatere, he tohunga rongoā, he tohunga o te maramataka me to ao tūroa. He mea ngāwari!

It is so important to Aotearoa and Māori iwi. Our ancestors were scientists/technologists/ engineers and mathematicians! They were and are experts in navigation, experts in pharmacology and medicines and experts in the natural environment. It’s a no brainer!

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?

Nā te kaha o te wairua tāne. Whakatika. Whakataurite i te taha wāhine me te taha tāne.  E tū kaha wāhine mā hei kaiārahi mo te iwi Māori me te whenua o Aotearoa whānui. 

Because it is dominated by men. This should be corrected. Balance between men and women should be restored. So stand strong wāhine mā – you have a role to play in leading our Māori people and Aotearoa more broadly.

Associate Professor Elana Taipapaki Curtis is Ngāti Rongomai, Ngāti Pikiao (Te Arawa) and Public Health Physician who provides academic leadership for the Vision 20:20 Indigenous health workforce development initiative and contributes to Māori health teaching and research at the University of Auckland.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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