Prof Kawharu, a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and former Rhodes Scholar, was ''very happy'' to receive the grant, from Nga Pae o te Maramatanaga.
Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (''horizons of insight'') is New Zealand's indigenous Centre of Research Excellence, funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and hosted by Auckland University.
The grant was one of several recently announced by the centre.
Prof Kawharu, who is director of research at the James Henare Maori Research Centre at Auckland University and an associate professor of research at Otago, said the funding would have a ''very positive'' effect.
It would also ''support the development of emerging Maori scholarship'', through a postgraduate grant.
She is principal investigator in the project ''Waka Wairua: Landscape heritage and the creative potential of Maori communities''.
Centre officials said the research would ''unravel heritage threads and leadership principles'' connecting New Zealand and Polynesia.
Narratives would also be explored involving ''entrepreneurial leaders, including the early navigators who travelled between Tahiti, Rarotonga and New Zealand''. The project will also examine ''outstanding Maori heritage landscapes'' in New Zealand and aimed to ''acquire and collate orally held knowledge from community leaders from across New Zealand and the Pacific'', including Tahiti and Rarotonga.
Prof Kawharu, an Auckland graduate who also has a DPhil in social anthropology from Oxford University, said she was ''part of a team of people'' who had for some years been aiming to ''progress this project''.
Researchers would film and record narratives in Ra'iatea - an island in French Polynesia- as well as in Rarotonga and New Zealand, and the knowledge would be made ''accessible to those communities'', she said.
''The grant will enable us to do this.''