Rata Pryor Rodgers
Ngāi Tahu – Awarua, Ōraka Aparima
Rata Pryor Rodgers grew up in Paekākāriki on the Kāpiti Coast. Much of her early life was spent with family and friends down at the beach, swimming, fishing, and diving. It was this long-standing connection with the sea that inspired her to complete her Master of Science in Marine Biology at Victoria University in Wellington. After graduating, Rata moved to Christchurch and began working at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as a graduate researcher in the Strategy and Influence team.
Rata has recently returned from a field trip in Antarctica, where she spent two weeks completing research projects and camping on the Ross Ice Shelf. She was given this incredible opportunity when she won a scholarship, Te Tauira Nā Kaiwhakatere, through the Te Ao Tūroa team at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. This scholarship allows her to complete a post-graduate certificate in Antarctic Studies through the University of Canterbury.
While the trip to Antarctica was undoubtedly the highlight, Rata says that the course itself has been amazing, with lectures by a wide range of experts covering the scientific, environmental, social, and political aspects of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
What constitutes a good day?
Getting to be outside on a sunny day is always good.
One thing you could not live without?
I would struggle if I didn’t have access to a good beach or river to swim in.
Who or what inspires you and why?
My tāua Angel (Marilyn Pryor née Lobb). She came from humble beginnings, and although she left school at a young age she went back to continue her education, going on to be a scientist in her early career. She had a strong sense of social justice, which led to her becoming New Zealand’s first Māori Papal Dame of the Order of St. Gregory. I remember her being very hard-working, up all hours of the night typing away. But she was also an extremely kind and giving person, always having time for us or anybody else in the community that needed some form of help or support. The strong mix of these two traits is something I really admire.
Highlight in the last year and why?
I was lucky to travel to a number of different places around New Zealand and the world, but the one that stands out the most has to be my recent trip to Antarctica. I was so privileged to have this opportunity. My first glimpse of Antarctica was from the air as we flew down on a US Air Force plane. It was surreal as I finally understood how massive and beautiful this place is. I have spent a lot of time during my studies learning about many different aspects of Antarctica’s environment, but seeing it really makes you understand what an important place this is globally and just how special Antarctica is.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I do spend quite a lot of money flying home to see my family and friends; I normally take any excuse to get back home.
Favourite way to chill out? Favourite place?
My favourite place to relax is a camping site called Pūtai Ngahere Domain (or Vinegar Hill). The Rangitikei River flows through the campsite and it’s surrounded by native bush and big limestone cliffs.
Dance or wallflower?
What food could you not live without?
What meal do you cook the most?
I cook stir-fry a lot, mainly because I’m in a hurry. If I have a lot of time, and people to cook for, I’ll spend a long time making a few good curries from scratch.
I was pretty stoked when I finished my Master thesis on why mussels are not found on Wellington’s south coast. I was so happy when it was done, I made the title text gold.
Do you have an aspiration for Ngāi Tahu to achieve by 2025?
I would like to see Ngāi Tahu demonstrating leadership in environmental protection and management. The sustainable use of resources on the land and in the sea is becoming increasingly important due to the changing environment and human pressures. I think we are on the right track, but it is very important to me that we make sure that our policies, practices, and morals are aligned to being responsible global citizens, and that we can lead by example in whatever field we are involved in.