For more than 35 years Rotorua’s Cathy Dewes has toiled away to bring the language of her people to the nation.
Ms Dewes is principal of landmark total immersion school, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ruamata and has been a leader in Maori education for more than three-and-a-half decades.
She was one of a group who began Maori Language Day in 1975. It later became Maori Language Week and was instrumental in the establishment of Kura Kaupapa Maori schools throughout New Zealand.
She was chair of Te Runanganui o Kura Kaupapa Maori, the national body for Kura Kaupapa Maori and has been an advisor on Kura Kaupapa Maori to the Ministry of Education. She was the first woman to be elected to the former Te Arawa Maori Trust Board and has played a key role in increasing Maori language content in television and radio. Ms Dewes is a board member for both Maori Television and Te Reo Irirangi o Te Arawa radio station.
“It’s great to know that the government values the work that I do and that they can see the significant contribution that Maori language and values are making to the development of Aotearoa society.” Ms Dewes told The Daily Post.
“What is so pleasing about the award is that it’s like a gesture of gratitude from the government to every child who attends a kohanga reo and every child who completes their education totally in Maori and every mother who attends classes to learn Maori and every dad who tries to speak only Maori to his children.
“They are saying to all of us, “thank you for your effort.
You are very important to us. Keep up the good work.”‘
Ms Dewes was not always a stalwart of the Maori language, while head prefect at Wellington Girls College she spent many years learning Latin, French, German, Italian and English.
“I asked the principal if I could learn Maori through correspondence school and my request was denied. That was my first experience of institutional racism and I realised then that it had to change.”
She said there had been many highlights and rewarding experiences throughout her career but she was particularly proud of the major transformation in New Zealand brought about as a result of a concerted effort by many people committed to reclaiming the Maori language and culture.
“The children continue to inspire me. They succeed and achieve within the kura kaupapa Maori environment and graduate with pakeha qualifications, with Maori language, Maori values, Maori identity, Maori spirituality and self esteem intact.
“My dad however, was influential in terms of guiding and advising me along this path. I and the other thousands of language activists have worked long and hard to effect this huge transformation within Aotearoa society,” she said.
Thanks to Matthew Martin and the Daily Post for this korero and congratulations to whaea Cathy!!