Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman’s road to Harvard
Article by Keiller MacDuff
Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Awa) has come a long way from Marchwiel to Massachusetts.
But he can draw a line from his early experiences in Te Tihi-o-Maru (Timaru) to the prestigious scholarship he will soon take up at Harvard University.
Pounamu, 31, is this year’s recipient of the Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Scholar Award, valued at US$37,500 (approximately NZ$53,500) for up to five months of teaching or research in the United States.
Pounamu is expected to take up a role at Harvard University at the end of September.
His research will examine the use of violence by private companies and the corporate sector working with the state to respond to indigenous land claims.
Pounamu said his time at Grantlea Downs School, formerly Grantlea, in 2001 and 2002, was absolutely “pivotal” to where he is today and the school was “incredibly supportive’’.
“I always felt listened to and heard,” he said.
“It was an environment where we were encouraged to think outside the box.”
He said Grantlea was without a doubt his favourite primary school, and he attended “five or six”.
He names former principal Mr Hawkey, along with ‘’Mrs Leonard’’ and ‘’Miss Crammond’’ as teachers who particularly influenced and inspired him.
“They were incredibly supportive of me, especially for a young Māori boy in that time in the South Island.’’
After attending Roncalli College, Aikman gained his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Master’s degrees from Otago University, then went on to complete his doctorate at Australian National University in Canberra.
His PhD thesis looked at the armed police raids in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and ongoing experiences of racism, colonisation, and state violence.
The topic came from hearing about the experiences of a friend’s whānau whose home was raided by accident by the Armed Offenders Squad, Pounamu said.
“I was so incensed that this could happen here, in the New Zealand I grew up in. I wanted to somehow respond meaningfully to the injustice.”
Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Awa), right, with his mother, Anah Aikman (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Wairere).He said while his work focuses on state and police violence, he was lucky not to have experienced that growing up in Timaru.
He is now based in Wellington, where he is an Adjunct Research Fellow in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington and works as Senior Evaluator Māori at the Education Review Office.
Asked if he dreamed of becoming an academic as a youngster at Grantlea, Pounamu said he probably didn’t know what an academic was, but always loved reading, writing and learning.
“I don’t think I thought I’d be necessarily an academic, but I knew I would be somehow involved in knowledge.’’
He had no connection to Harvard previously, but emailed a Professor of History there with his research plans and had an enthusiastic response less than a day later.
Bernie Leonard was deputy principal at Grantlea during Pounamu’s time at the school, and has warm memories of him.
“Jade [Pounamu] was a delight to teach. He had a great appetite for learning.”
Leonard says around the time of his arrival, she and other staff were introducing “inquiry based teaching,” an individualised student-focused approach with an emphasis on developing children as thinkers and learners.
“Every child is good at something, we just have to find it.”
Bernie Leonard was deputy principal at Grantlea when Pounamu was a student. She said he was a humble young man, but destined for greatness.
She said Pounamu was always a conscientious, deep thinker who was very involved in many aspects of school life.
He was tightly connected to his cultural roots, and had very supportive and involved whānau.
“I always felt he was destined to do great things for his community, for the environment, for the whole country,” Leonard said.
Former Grantlea principal Dave Hawkey remembers Aikman as a polite and considered young man, who was “a real contributor to the school’’.
“He mixed with a whole variety of students, regardless of their background or status at the school,’’ Hawkey said.
“He was very able, academically, culturally and in sports. He was humble and quietly focused on his own studies.”
He said it was “incredibly satisfying that Jade thought so highly of his schooling’’.
“It’s a delight to hear we played a part in his success.”
Pounamu’s mother Anah Aikman said the award ceremony, held at Parliament last week, was incredible.
“It was amazing to see the potential change makers and incredible minds in that room,” Anah said.
She said it was always important to her to provide her children with academic and sporting opportunities while providing a “very values-based environment” centred on justice and fairness.
Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman gives a hongi to Acting American Ambassador, Kevin Covert at the Fulbright Awards ceremony at Parliament.
“I taught them [my children] to be kind. I encouraged them to be really curious about the world,’’ she said.
“They needed to not just be able to walk in the Māori and Pākehā worlds, but be able to walk in five or six worlds. Now we’re at that point where he can be on the global stage.”
She said her son was born in Melbourne, and then the family moved to Gisborne.
“Jade went to kōhanga reo there, and it was so important that he was exposed to Māori language and culture.”
Aikman is also unstinting in her praise of Grantlea, saying the way staff nurtured young people helped them to develop aspirations.
“Grantlea was absolutely instrumental – pivotal – in Jades'[Pounamu’s] life.”
She also acknowledged former Timaru mayor, the late Wynn Raymond and his whānau, who “really encouraged’’ her son.
Aikman said a visit by a kaumātua from the Eastern Bay of Plenty also changed the trajectory of her son’s life.
The pair met koro Wiremu Kora when they were both working on a movie filmed in Waimate when Jade was about 12-years old.
“He saw the potential in Jade [Pounamu], and asked if he could take him under his wing, teaching him te reo, tikanga and the old ways of Māori knowing.”
Aikman said Kora was instrumental in her son’s knowledge of te ao Māori, and presented him with a carved tokotoko at the Fulbright awards ceremony.
Aikman still has ties to the area, getting back to South Canterbury when he can to visit whānau in Timaru, and his grandmother in Waimate.
He hopes to visit the south before he heads off on the next stage of his journey.