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Cathy Dewes


Whaea Cathy was born in Whakatane. On her Dad’s side she is from Ngāti Porou and on her Mum’s side she is from Te Arawa. In 1966 she moved with her family to Wellington and started school here at Wellington Girls’ College. In 1968 she was named Head Girl and in the same year she was awarded the Anna P. Stout cup for all round excellence. She asked the principal at that time if she could learn Māori but her request was denied. In her own words, it was then she realised that society needed to change in order that Māori might live.

Following school she studied te reo Māori at Victoria University. It was at this time that she joined her peers to form the Reo Māori society. This group was instrumental in lobbying for Māori news on radio and television, establishing the first Koha and Te Karere programmes, as well as the first training programme for Māori television producers and directors.

In 1972, Cathy, along with other passionate advocates of Te Reo Māori, presented the Māori Language petition to Parliament. The petition signed by 30,000 people that was presented on the steps of Parliament called for the teaching of Māori language and culture in New Zealand schools. It was a watershed moment in our country’s history. Because of this work Māori Language Day was established which later became Māori Language Week.

In 2011 her accomplishments were recognised by both her iwi, Te Arawa and Ngāti Porou, who gathered to celebrate her Honorary Doctorate, conferred by the University of Waikato. In the same year she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to Māori.