Bicultural Researcher Maria Hepi brings depth and perspective to a number of ESR’s research projects, ranging from developing indicators for community resilience, to working with communities on safe drinking water, to looking for better health outcomes.
Being Pākehā and being involved in te ao Māori gives Maria a good understanding of both cultures.
“ESR saw the need for a bridge between the two cultures,” Maria explains. “In my role I am able to apply social science methods to cross-cultural projects to bring an added level of robustness and depth to our findings and our work.”
For example, Maria and a multidisciplinary team of scientists and community workers from ESR, the University of Canterbury, the University of Auckland, Seaview Resilience Centre and Positive Directions Trust, have been involved in a two-year research project (2012-2014) funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) that will assist with creating indicators to determine a community’s resiliency.
The “Living in a Colour-Coded City” research project took place in Canterbury and included the Rāpaki Marae and community. The indicators will assist policy-makers and others with developing useful strategies for understanding and building resilience within communities as part of responding to major events, such as the Canterbury earthquakes.
“One of the key findings from the research is that scientists and governance authorities must include cultural values Māori hold for ancestral land like Rāpaki when developing technical land zone decisions,” Maria says.
Currently Maria and a team of researchers are involved in another MBIE-funded project looking at how to make social services reachable to those who are deemed ‘hard to reach’.
While Maria has both academic, she earned her Masters in Māori from Canterbury University, and professional experience in building bicultural understanding, her ethos can also be seen in her personal life. She and her partner Jay (who is Ngāi Tahu, Waikato Maniapoto and Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi iwi) are raising their children in a bilingual household with te reo Māori and English.
“Whether at home or at work my goal is to build and support our bicultural understanding and knowledge,” Maria says. “I believe that not only does that mean better outcomes, it also means a richer and fuller understanding of what makes us unique as New Zealanders.”