The Kate Sheppard Memorial Trust Award award has been presented to Christchurch’s Kelly Waiana Tikao to coincide with the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, which was led by Sheppard. The award will help Tikao complete her PhD studies exploring Kāi Tahu birthing traditions and practices pertaining to conception, pregnancy and birth. Tikao is also working as an registered nurse for Canterbury DHB’s children and youth mental health services.

Trust chairperson Judith Sutherland said Tikao’s PhD thesis grew out of her fascination with indigenous birthing practices and the ongoing public interest in her master’s thesis, and a film on traditional Māori birthing practices encouraged her to extend this research with a doctorate.

“Another important factor and hope for Kelly is that her research will aid the potential implementation of Ngāi Tahu birthing knowledge and practices within New Zealand’s current maternity services and Southern midwifery education,” said Sutherland. “Plans have already been drawn up to produce resources post her doctorate to return the research into the hands of midwives and whānau.”

Tikao, of Waitaha, Kati Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu descent, has also been the recipient of a Health Research Council PhD Māori Scholarship and the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre UC Māori PhD Scholarship. She said in an interview shortly after starting her PhD that she wanted to learn the origin of the practices and ritual undertaken by her Ngāi Tahu tipuna around pregnancy and birth.

“I want to remind people that we have beautiful birthing traditions and tikanga and that they are still relevant today,” said Tikao. She said although some traditions had been forgotten, there was a growing interest in using traditional birthing practices.

Sutherland said Tikao was quick to declare she is not a midwife herself but had the utmost respect for her midwifery colleagues. She said Tikao has completed Huarahi Whakatū PDRP (professional development recognition programme) to expertise level through Te Rau Matatini and has worked for Māori health providers in a variety of clinical areas under the Auckland, Wellington, Otago and Canterbury DHBs over a 20-year period.

“The Trust is very pleased to be able to continue to assist talented women achieve their dreams. The research being undertaken by this year’s recipient in the area of indigenous birthing practices will be very important not only to New Zealand but to overseas as well. We are sure that Kate Sheppard would be proud to lend her name to such a worthwhile area of study.”

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