Dame Kāterina Mataira was born at Tokomaru Bay, on the East Coast. She attended Manutahi Native School and St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ School before studying at Ardmore Teachers’ College and Dunedin Teachers’ College. Between 1953 and 1961, Mataira worked as an itinerant art teacher.
Mataira was also a key figure in the reo Māōri revitalisation movement, developing the Te Ataarangi community learning approach to teaching te reo Māori. In 1985, Mataira was involved in the establishment of first Māori language immersion school, Kura Kaupapa Māori, at Hoani Waititi Marae in Auckland, and co-authored *Te Aho Matua*, the philosophy and charter for kaupapa Māori schools. In 1987, she was appointed a foundation member of the Māori Language Commission.
Mataira was made an Honorary Doctor by the University of Waikato in 1996 and received the Te Tohu Aroha mō Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu Award in 2001. In 2011, she was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the Māori language.
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