Tributes from around the world have begun to flow as word spreads of the passing of Dame Katerina Mataira, a wahine toa and rangatira of the highest order. Dame Kataira was acknowledged for helping to pull “te reo Maori from the brink of extinction” and became a Dame only a few weeks ago, for her services to Maori language. She was a key founder of the Maori language programme Te Ataarangi and the Kura Kaupapa movement and she has been at the forefront of the revival of te reo Maori for decades.
Kind words and expressions of sympathy flooded Facebook, with well-known Maori academic, Leonie Pihama saying :
and the Maori world begins to mourn the loss of a great wahine of her generation who was a part of those who were courageous and steadfast in their stand for te reo Maori. Who was a part of the creation of language immersion that has seen Te Atarangi, Kohanga Reo, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori and Wharekura flourish for generations to come. .”
Dame Katerina was also known as an brilliant author, academic and artist.
Dame Katerina, who affiliates to the Ngati Porou tribe, was born in Tokomaru Bay in 1932 and trained as a teacher and art educator. She has nine children with her husband Junior Te Ratu Karepa Mataira and 50 grandchildren including one great-great-grandchild.
In 1998 she was made a Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit and was also invited by the Chilean government and the Rapanui people to Easter Island to share the Maori experience of recovering te reo Maori.
She has written several ground-breaking novels in Maori including Te Atea, Makorea and Rehua along with award-winning children’s books Maui and the Big Fish, Marama Taniweto and Nga Mokonui a Rangi.
Dame Katerina credited her gift of storytelling to her parents, Raniera and Erana Harrison, who raised a large family in Ruatoria. Maori was their native tongue. ‘My father was a brilliant storyteller,’ K?terina recalled. ‘Many of his stories were about his own life. They were full of real people and real events. There were scary ones too. He loved to tell ghost stories, then send one of us kids outside to fetch wood for the fire.’
In 1985 she helped set up the first Maori language immersion school, Kura Kaupapa Maori at Hoani Waititi Marae in Auckland, and co-authored Te Aho Matua – the philosophy and charter for kaupapa Maori schools. In 1987 she was appointed a foundation member of the M?ori Language Commission. In 1996 she was made an Honorary Doctor at the University of Waikato. She has published a number of award winning picture books in Maori for children. However, her ground-breaking work has been the writing of novels in M?ori – Te Atea (1975), Makorea (2002) and Rehua (2006).
In 1998 Katerina was awarded the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of her contribution to New Zealand. She lives with her husband, Junior Te Ratu Karepa in Raglan where she continues to write books for children. She has eight children, 29 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. K?terina’s son, Pita, an artist, has illustrated some of her books, continuing K?terina’s tradition, as she was first published as an illustrator.
In 2000, Creative New Zealand offered a grant to Ahuru Press to publish her three-volume historical novel written in te reo. In 2001 she was the recipient of the Te Tohu Tiketike a Te Waka Toi/Te Waka Toi Exemplary Award. Elizabeth Ellis, Chair of Te Waka Toi, Maori Arts Board of Creative New Zealand said ‘Katerina is an exceptional, creative person. As a Maori woman at the forefront of Maori language renaissance, she’s provided leadership, direction and security. As a writer and an artist, she’s had a profound effect on New Zealand society’.
Dame Katerina will be sorely missed but her legacy will live on for generations to come.