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Honorary Doctorate for te reo campaigner

Honorary Doctorate for te reo campaigner

Cultural activist and academic campaigner Koro Dewes will receive an honorary doctorate at Victoria University’s Te Hui Whakapûmau graduation celebrations on December 10.

Mr Dewes (Ngâti Porou) has played a pivotal role in the revitalisation of te reo Maori and culture.

In the early 1960s he was a Mâori tutor at the University of Auckland, teaching Mâori language classes throughout Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Taupo and the East Coast. He also organised the first marae visit for Pâkehâ students in the Waikato.

Mr Dewes challenged the prevailing, and what he later recounted as "culturally patronising" view, that the Mâori language lacked any real depth, says Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon.

“He actively sought and encouraged a range of iconic figures to contribute to his archive of recordings of Mâori oratory and waiata, which were used as a teaching resource. He also collected, edited, translated and annotated the contemporary song poetry of his iwi, Ngâti Porou, while he was at Victoria.”

In 1966, he was appointed as a lecturer at Victoria University. His dedication and unstinting advocacy for Mâori language and its status within the University helped to extend the courses so that students could complete a degree major in Mâori studies from 1971.

His Masters thesis, submitted in 1972, focused on the work of Hçnare Waitoa, whose compositions from the 1930s to the 1950s were captured, explored and then submitted in te reo Mâori, making Mr Dewes the first person to present his thesis without an English translation.

Mr Dewes’ commitment to the revitalisation of te reo extended far beyond his teaching at Victoria University. An inspirational teacher, who focused predominantly on the importance of spoken Mâori, he was a tireless advocate for Te Reo Mâori Society, an activist group behind the Mâori Language Petition that was presented to Parliament in 1972.

Not limiting his prowess solely to academic endeavours, Mr Dewes was also a talented rugby player, representing the East Coast in the 1950s in games against both Australia and the Springboks and playing for the Auckland Ranfurly Shield squad in the early 1960s, and Counties from 1959 to 1961.

His family also have close connections with Victoria, with his son Whaimutu, daughter Catherine and their partners all graduating in the 1970s.

Mr Dewes now farms on the East Coast, and is actively involved in his community.

Mr Dewes will receive an honorary Doctor of Literature degree on 10 December at Te Herenga Waka Marae, Victoria University, Kelburn Parade as part of the University's marae-based graduation ceremony, Te Hui Whakapûmau, where more than 50 graduands will receive their degrees.

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