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Student Profiles

Dr Gary Leaf
Ngāpuhi, Tūwharetoa

PhD in Indigenous Studies

Background Summary:

For me, achieving a doctorate wasn’t so much about the qualification – it was more about the journey. I was working in engineering at Whakatāne Board Mills when I started at Awanuiārangi with a certificate course in Māori leadership. I stayed with Awanuiārangi on the entire pathway to a doctoral degree.

I come from a background of being on the periphery of Māori culture. I observed but never participated, was always the spectator and never the player. I didn’t have te reo – a legacy of what my father endured in being penalised at school for speaking te reo Māori. I always felt something was missing. For me the experience of being a wānanga student was like catching up with myself, reasserting my cultural identity.

Achieving a PhD was just the culmination of that journey. Researching my doctoral thesis took seven years; writing it took three. I remember one year not being able to have Christmas dinner with my whānau, because I was writing. At the time, not being able to participate fully with whānau was difficult, but I know now that the result stands as an important example for my children.

A wānanga education changed my view on life, my prospects, my direction, my future. I no longer stand on the outside of my own culture looking in. I’m participating fully and working alongside other graduates to make a difference.