New Maori dame helped thousands learn te reo

Last updated 05:00 01/05/2010

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One of the cornerstones of the kohanga reo movement has been invested as a dame for her services to Maori education.

Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, a life member of the Maori Women's Welfare League and Maori Education Trust, received the honour at Wellington's Premier House from Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand yesterday.

Dame Iritana, 81, of Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngapuhi, Canadian and English descent, was appointed general manager of Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Board in 1982.

"I accepted this honour as a tribute to the families that drove the kohanga reo movement in those early days," the Ngati Porou stalwart said.

There are now about 10,000 children receiving early childhood Maori language education at 500 preschools.

Dame Iritana said she had no intention of slowing down. "When I can't get out and play golf, that is when I'll start taking it easy."

She began her teaching career in 1948, before becoming a welfare officer in Ruatoria. There, she developed a network of playcentres on the East Coast.

Her involvement with early childhood education continued when she moved to Lower Hutt in 1972.

The first kohanga reo, Pukeatua, was opened in Wainuiomata, in 1982. By 1994, there were more than 800 nationwide, catering for about 14,000 children.

She worked at Maori Affairs from 1984 until retiring in 1989, with three years as department assistant secretary.

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- The Dominion Post

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