Honorary pioneer: Roka Paora QSM (centre) pictured with her daughter Parehau Richards, and from left Waikato University's Professor Pou Temara, council member Jan Jamieson, Professor Aroha Yates-Smith and Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford.
Roka Paora QSM (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), is nationally recognised as an expert and authority in Māori language, culture and history. This week in Opotiki she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato.
More than 250 family and friends attended the ceremony where University Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford paid tribute to Mrs Paora’s long and distinguished career. He said he felt privileged to be conferring the honorary doctorate on Mrs Paora. “She has been a leader and teacher, and a carrier of knowledge passed down to her by her Kaumātua, which she in turn has passed on to her students and her wider community.”
As a teacher in the 1960s, based in her home town Te Kaha, Mrs Paora was a member of a pioneering group of Māori writers and educators who developed creative resources and ways to teach Māori language in the context of iwi and hapu experiences, history and whakapapa.
Her expertise in te reo saw her called upon to be a translator, editor, researcher and composer, assessor and examiner, tutor and television adviser.
Her many publications include the Learning Māori with Parehau and Sharon series, “Kia Ora”, a bi-cultural social studies classroom resource, and a comprehension book for the Te Wharekura Māori language school journal. She was also co-editor of the revised seventh edition of the Williams’ Dictionary and the Ngata Dictionary. Mrs Paora was also an adviser to the Ministry of Justice and the National Kohanga Reo Trust.
More recently, alongside her more weighty texts, she translated Disney books into Māori, including Lilo and Stitch, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin and Barney.
“Mrs Paora worked at Waikato University for a time,” said Professor Crawford. “She went out of her way to help staff expand their knowledge of Māori language and literacy. Her research and writing now informs their research and teaching.”
Another significant part of Mrs Paora’s life has been the Returned Services Association and the Māori Battalion. She researched the Māori Battalion’s C Company and in 1977 travelled with the 28th Māori Battalion pilgrimage to Europe and the Mediterranean and during the 1990s she travelled with C Company to Italy.