Just days after her death, Dame Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira is being hailed as one of Maoridom's great leaders.
The humble woman from Ngati Porou died in Hamilton at the weekend, just weeks after being made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her service to the language.
She has been lying in state at her home marae – Ohinewaiapu Marae in Rangitukia, 25km northeast of Ruatoria on the East Coast – and will be buried today.
Dame Katerina, who was born in Tokomaru Bay in 1932, was a key founder of the Maori language programme Te Ataarangi and the Kura Kaupapa movement, and was at the forefront of the revival of te reo Maori for more than 40 years.
She contracted a respiratory illness while visiting a son in the United States in May, and was too ill to speak with the Waikato Times when she received her Queen's Birthday honour last month.
Waikato University lecturer Tom Roa, who worked with Dame Katerina after she was given an honorary doctorate, said her death was a massive loss.
"I tend to think of her in the same breath as Dame Whina Cooper along with Te Puea in terms of the legacy she leaves and the breadth and depth of that legacy.
"They all were women of moment and they moved people and gave people momentum to follow through with their dreams.
"They provided us with momentum and if it wasn't for them I don't we would have had the same momentum. And they did it with class, they were people of elegance.
"It wasn't just with te reo, of course there was the great impact on te reo Maori from her Te Ataarangi initiatives and several other of her initiatives but she was also an artist, a writer and a philosopher as were Whina and Te Puea."
Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said Dame Katerina's legacy would continue far beyond her death.
"Thirty years later, Te Ataarangi is recognised as one of the significant programmes to address the revitalisation of te reo Maori among non-speaking Maori adults, a flagship for te reo Maori.
"Katerina was emphatic that our language will survive in our whanau, our homes and our communities.
"Indeed `Kia korero Maori te motu whanui' is the motto of Te Ataarangi."
A great-great-grandmother, Dame Katerina, 79, had nine children with her husband Junior Te Ratu Karepa Mataira and 50 grandchildren spanning three generations.
She wrote 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.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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