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Published 24 August 2023

Three new Companions recognised for leadership and sustained contributions to science and the humanities in Aotearoa

Three women who have worked tirelessly in the realms of sustainable agriculture; Indigenous humanities; and the research science and innovation sector have been elected as new Companions—Ngā Takahoa a Te Apārangi—of Royal Society Te Apārangi.

They are Dr Liz Wedderburn, Emeritus Professor Ngahuia te Awekotuku and Dr Prue Williams

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President of Royal Society Te Apārangi Dr Brent Clothier FRSNZ said the award of  Companion—Ngā Takahoa a Te Apārangi—is an honour recognising outstanding leadership or sustained contributions to promoting and advancing science, technology, or the humanities in Aotearoa.

“The Society’s Council is pleased to be able to recognise the significant impact and the sustained efforts each has made in their respective areas,” he said.

“The honour is reserved for those who have made a contribution to society far above and beyond what might be expected of them from the roles they have held.”

Dr Liz Wedderburn—A champion for sustainable agriculture

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Dr Liz Wedderburn has been elected as a Companion for her significant contributions to sustainable agriculture, transdisciplinary research, and the advancement of science policy and agribusiness.

For 35 years, Liz has researched sustainable agriculture within livestock grazing systems.

Liz says she was first inspired as a student by the “green revolution” and the application of science to increase global food production.

“Later the negative unintended consequences on the environment, of the technologies used, led me to seek out people who took a more systems approach.”

Liz says she found those people in Australia and France and she was inspired by their ability to think beyond just biology and include socio-political science: “it gave me confidence to try out innovative approaches”.

With expertise in pastoral ecology, sustainable farming, collaborative processes, and systems-thinking, Liz has provided leadership in land-water interfaces and rural futures.

She introduced the concepts of sustainable agricultural practice to Aotearoa in the early 1990s when farmers were coming to terms with environmental impacts.

From there, Liz pioneered study groups in Waikato that included farmer, policy, and sector participants aiming to balance farm productivity with environmental outcomes.

She has worked with farming communities worldwide through co-chairing Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock’s ‘Restoring the Value to Grasslands’ Action Network.

Knowledge exchange from Liz’s diverse global collaborations has resulted in capability development in Aotearoa, which has demonstrated the need for diverse world views to collaborate and deliver on contentious outcomes.

Liz’s knowledge of integrated assessment and processes for community deliberations were recognised in her appointment to the Technical Leaders Group for the Waikato River Healthy Waterways Plan to set water take limits for the Waikato River.

Throughout her career, Liz has worked with Māori on land use and the ability to attain the aspirations of mana whenua for healthy whenua (land) and awa (water).

Liz was invited by the Ministry of Primary Industries to assist in developing their Māori Agribusiness Extension programme based on her experience in leading the Uruguayan Family Farm Programme.

Liz’s appointment as the interim director for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge recognised her expertise, collaborative approaches, and extensive networks.

In 2019, Liz was awarded the Levy Oration by the NZ Grassland Association in recognition for her outstanding contribution to the New Zealand pastoral industry.

Her leadership skills have also been recognised by her appointment to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Science Board in 2018.

Building on her mahi, Liz envisions a future primary sector that can take a systems approach right from ideation, including those people who will be impacted by the solutions both in a positive and negative way.

“And that these people,” Liz says, “will become well embedded in our communities and research establishments.”

“From this the relevant research questions will evolve and enable different knowledge systems and methodologies to be applied that will lead to the outcome or impact sought.”

Emeritus Professor Ngahuia te Awekotuku—Breaking boundaries in the humanities


Emeritus Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku MNZM (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Ngāpuhi, Waikato) has been elected as a Companion for her outstanding leadership and boundary-breaking work in the humanities.

As an award-winning researcher, writer, activist, curator, and critic, Ngahuia’s leadership and contributions have been multifaceted, transformative, and enduring for Te Ao Māori and Aotearoa.

Ngahuia was the first wahine Māori to earn a doctorate from a New Zealand university, and she continued to cross boundaries in the humanities, asserting innovative approaches.

She says she has been inspired by lives and stories of other women like Makereti Papakura (Guide Maggie) who enrolled at Oxford; Ngapare Hopa, who did the same forty years later; and her grandmother Hera Tawhai Rogers with her uncompromising sense of excellence as a weaver and designer.

Ngahuia also called on her “rough and ready” aunties who exhorted her to never ever give up; the academically rigorous Sisters of Mercy at her rural primary school; and the sublime wisdom of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu.

She says she has been driven by a sense of wanting to do something meaningful for people – and that she did.

Ngahuia developed and taught the first tertiary sector Māori and Pacific Art History programme to a PhD level, helped to establish Women’s Studies as an academic discipline at Waikato and Auckland universities. A founder of Gay Liberation in 1972, she developed Takatapui (LGBT) courses at Victoria University of Wellington—Te Herenga Waka.

While Head of Māori and Pacific Studies at Victoria University, she oversaw the emergence of Pacific Studies as an independent department.

As an original member of Nga Tamatoa, Ngahuia worked on the 1972 Māori Language Petition. She co-founded the Māori Writers and Artists Association and chaired the Te Waka Toi Māori Arts Board of Creative New Zealand.

As a curator at Waikato Museum, she confronted issues of Indigenous representation in the museum sector. She assisted in establishing the government mandated authority for the repatriation of Māori and Moriori ancestral remains.

Ngahuia recently presented and co-wrote the documentary series Waharoa: Art of the Pacific, describing the journey of Māori and Pacific art from restrained traditional forms to dynamic contemporary practice.

In 2010, she became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori culture.

In 2017, she received Royal Society Te Apārangi’s Pou Aronui Award for distinguished service to the humanities-aronui over a sustained period.

The following year, she was the first Māori woman to be made an Emeritus Professor of a university, and a Fellow of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

She says she has been privileged and inspired by the faith, example, and aroha of three generations of female leaders, visionaries, and trail blazers.

On a tribal level, Ngahuia is a dedicated ritualist and member of Te Paepae Tapu o Ngāti Whakaue, Ohinemutu.

Looking to the future of the galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAM) sector, Ngahuia says she would like to see a network of tribal museums, funded by public, private, and post settlement resources, which would become centres of exhibitions, research, conservation, performance, education, and repatriation for individual iwi nations.

“The focus of these would initially be the traditional forms, with reference to the development of contemporary work. 

“Related to this would be a national institution of contemporary Māori art.”

She says such a vision requires a skilled and specialised human resource, “which we have the beginnings now, but we must train, educate, and nurture more senior Māori GLAM sector staff, particularly in the provincial and rural areas”.

“We must believe in them.”

Dr Prue Williams—Sustained and outstanding leadership of the science sector

Prue WilliamsDr Prue Williams has been elected as a Companion for her outstanding contribution to Aotearoa’s research, science, and innovation (RSI) sector.

Prue uses her significant knowledge of the New Zealand science system to ensure that government science policy and funding mechanisms are delivering benefit.

She says she has taken inspiration from seeing what research is going on and how it can be used.

“Early on in my career it was about seeing farmers use my research.

“More recently it has been seeing the work going on in research organisations and universities and hearing the stories about what it might lead to.”

Prue has a deep knowledge of the RSI sector and is passionate about ensuring it functions well and offers a great career path for researchers.

Her peers say without her sustained leadership for the past 25 years, the sector would be “immeasurably poorer”.

Building on her own experience as a soil scientist, Prue has a record of informed and visionary service as a research administrator that has earned her the respect of researchers and research fund managers across the globe.

Her reputation most recently led to her appointment as the senior public servant responsible for the government’s reform of the science system, Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways. 

For ten years prior to this appointment, Prue ran the section of Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment charged with administering the government’s investments in research – especially scientific research.

In many cases, Prue managed the initial creation of the funds to ensure that they delivered the appropriate environmental, economic, and social outcomes. 

In this role, she was responsible for the running of several major funds, such as the Endeavour Fund and the National Science Challenges. She has been at the forefront of change in this work.

Some of the changes she drove had longer-term, transformative goals, like the establishment and appointment of the Pou Putaiao Director Māori RSI role in MBIE and the introduction of the new funds to increase diversity in the research system. These initiatives are a key part of supporting MBIE’s obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the science system.

Prue’s record of service is far beyond business as usual, and this was recognised by the award of the Te Tohu Ratonga Tūmatanui o Aotearoa | The New Zealand Public Service Medal in 2021.

Prue has represented New Zealand on the Global Research Council for many years, an organisation dedicated to promoting and sharing of data and best practices among funding agencies worldwide.

In 2019 she was elected as a member of the Global Research Council’s Governance Board, demonstrating her high standing among senior research officials internationally.

She says she would like other people to have as fulfilling and rewarding a career in research as she has.

“I have been fortunate to have had opportunities to carry out interesting research, meet amazing people, travel to other countries, and see other parts of the research system.”

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi