Hero photograph
Photo by Wellington Girls' College

Catherine Dewes (1966-1968)

Wellington Girls' College —

Catherine Moana Dewes ONZM is a New Zealand Te Reo Māori advocate. She affiliates to Te Arawa and Ngāti Porou, and has been a leader in Māori language and education since the 1970s.

Both of Dewes' parents were teachers and she has three brothers. The family moved to Wellington in 1966 where Dewes was appointed Head Girl at Wellington Girls' College in 1968. Cathy studied French, German, Italian and Latin at high school. She received the Anna P. Stout Cup for Excellence in Class Work in all School Activities in 1968, one of the highest awards of the College.

Dewes achieved a degree in Māori from Victoria University of Wellington. While there, she helped establish the Te Reo Māori Society which pushed for the promotion of the Māori language including news content on television and radio. Dewes is a trained teacher.

She and her husband, Rawiri Rangitauira, have six children. Her husband died in 2014.


Through her involvement in the Te Reo Māori Society, Cathy Dewes helped collect 30,000 signatures for the Māori Language petition presented to New Zealand Parliament in 1972. The petition called for the introduction of Māori language in schools. Dewes and her peers established Māori Language Day in 1975 which later became Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week).

Dewes was a founding member of the Kura Kaupapa Māori schools movement in New Zealand. She was chair of Te Runanganui o Kura Kaupapa Māori, the national body for Kura Kaupapa Māori.

In 1985, Dewes established Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata in Rotorua, one of New Zealand's first Maori language schools. She has been principal of the school since its inception, including working 10 years in an unpaid role until the school secured government funding.

Dewes was the first woman in 50 years to be appointed to the Te Arawa Māori Trust Board in 1995. Her iwi, Ngāti Rangitihi, supported her appointment and she won her seat. 

In 2016, Cathy Dewes was appointed to the Ministry of Education's Advisory Group to review education funding systems. She was appointed to the Te Mātāwai advisory board by Hon Te Ururoa Flavell in the same year.


Cathy Dewes was awarded an honorary doctorate from Waikato University in 2011 in a ceremony attended by 400 of her iwi, whanau and peers. In the 2011 Queen's Birthday Honours, she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to Māori.