Mānoa Alumna 1st Indigenous Woman to Earn Australia University Award
Katerina “Kati” Teaiwa, alumna of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS), was named the 2021 Australian University Teacher of the Year for her innovative approach to teaching Pacific Studies. Teaiwa is the first Indigenous woman from the Pacific to win the award and be promoted to full professor at Australia
National University (ANU).
Katerina was born and raised in Fiji to parents of Banaban, I-Kiribati, and African American heritage. This background has remained influential in her research and writing, as in her highly regarded book, Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba (2015). Associate Professor Alexander Mawyer, Director of CPIS, wrote that when he teaches Consuming Ocean Island, students find a transformative consciousness of the region, which helps them develop a profound sense of the relevance of Pacific worlds, Pacific histories, and Pacific lives to their own lives in Hawai‘i and beyond.
Before joining ANU, Teaiwa was an Assistant Professor with CPIS from 2003 to 2007. At both institutions she advocated for rigorous interdisciplinary approaches to Pacific Islands Studies, and she later established ANU’s first Pacific Studies undergraduate program.
Teaiwa says, “Most of my classes feature embodied knowledges, such as
Pacific dance, and this can be both challenging and empowering as students learn how to connect dance to Pacific values, identities, or issues such as gender relations. Teaching and learning dance demonstrates how, beyond lectures, scholarly literature and policy reports, there are other ways important to understanding and connecting with the Pacific.”
Students learn to think broadly about what counts as data, history or a text, navigating between disciplines, knowledges and cultural practices. “Katerina has always been an excellent, charismatic teacher,” says Professor Terence Wesley-Smith, a mentor of Kati’s at CPIS. “She asks her students to learn Pacific songs and to dance, to further a sense of community and to offer a flavor of island cultures, languages and sensibilities.”
Teaiwa says of her teaching philosophy, “We can imagine ourselves as the crew of a metaphorical canoe, learning and working collaboratively aboard a vessel where everyone is humbled and empowered, everyone knows each other’s names and roles, and no one gets left behind.”
We are so grateful to share this canoe with Kati–from her time as a CPIS MA student, Assistant Professor at CPIS, and long-time collaborator across our sea of islands.
Today, Teaiwa is Professor of Pacific Studies and Deputy Director of Higher Degree Research Training at the Australian National University. She also participates in the CPIS publishing program, serving on the board of CPIS’s high-impact journal The Contemporary Pacific as the Arts Editor. She co-edited the latest volume in University of Hawaiʻi Press’s Pacific Islands Monograph Series, Sweat and Salt Water: Selected Works of Teresia Kieuea Teaiwa. Katerina is married to Nick Mortimer from Victoria, Australia, and they have two daughters.