Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

First woman of Pacific descent awarded prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

PC: gg.govt.nz

University of Auckland student KDee-Aimiti Ma’ia’i has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study in the Doctorate programme at Oxford in 2020, making her the fourth ever person of Pacific descent, and the first Pacific woman to receive the prestigious award.

New Zealand’s Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy hosted the Rhodes Scholarship committee meeting and candidate interviews at Government House in Wellington in yesterday. KDee-Aimiti was one of three Rhodes Scholars chosen from eight candidates, alongside Isabella Lenihan-Ikin of Victoria University and Oliver Pooke of University of Otago. Dame Patsy said the committee was impressed by their enthusiasm and ability.

KDee-Aimiti told Tagata Pasifika she was feeling overwhelmed at receiving the scholarship and paid mention to her grandfather, the eminent Samoan physician Papali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i, who  passed away earlier this month.

“He was an early and devoted Pacific pioneer who loved and served the Pacific wholeheartedly. I’m pleased to have done this for him – standing on his shoulders and continuing a life of service to the Pacific in his honour. Ultimately the scholarship is for the Pacific. Without the love and support that I have received from my family and broader Pacific community it would not have been possible. It’s something that I will never forget and will spend the rest of my life repaying the Pacific through service.”

On being the first female Pacific Rhodes Scholar, KDee-Aimiti said it was an honour, a privilege and a duty.

“It would not be possible without the countless Pacific women who have broken down barriers, dismantled stereotypes and paved the way for other Pacific women like me. There are countless Pacific woman disrupting systems all throughout Aotearoa who deserve far more recognition and applause than they currently receive. Again, this is for them too.”

At Oxford, KDee-Aimiti will be completing a DPhil in International Development with a sole focus on our Pacific region.

“Oxford is a place that has a profound impact on the Pacific region, yet there is a real absence of Pacific voices and Pacific research.

“I hope to be able to centralise the Pacific in all that I do – representing and advocating for the Pacific we love. I intend to compile an oral history source base that discusses the ways in which non-Pacific countries have implemented development policies in the Pacific and how Pacific nations and people feel about these interactions in order to show what self-determined Pacific development looks like.”

The pathway towards the Rhodes Scholarship has not be straight forward for KDee-Aimiti. She left Avondale College halfway through Year 12, and was required to do a foundation course before beginning her study at UoA at age 20.

“If you had told me then that I would be here, I would have laughed. Too often young Pacific people are tarnished by negative and untrue stereotypes that are entrenched within most systems in New Zealand. This creates barriers for Pacific people from doing the things that they are passionate about and talented in.”

She reflected that becoming a Rhodes Scholar will hopefully encourage other young Pacific people to overcome these barriers. “We can’t be held down by systems that weren’t intended for us to thrive in. We can do anything we set our minds to and nothing is off limits.

“I’m really passionate about ensuring that young Pacific people know this and believe in themselves, their families and where they have come from so that we can recreate the system into one that fosters our collective success.”

KDee-Aimiti follows in the footsteps of previous Pasifika recipients Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Pacific) at The University of Auckland; Alexander John Fala, CEO of Vend; and  Marco de Jong, who are all University of Auckland alumni.


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