Professor Tania Ka’ai came to AUT in 2007 with a goal to form the National Māori Language Institute, which was established in 2008. The International Centre for Language Revitalisation was then launched in 2011.
Tania was born and raised in New Zealand. She is of Hawaiian, Cook Islands, and Samoan descent through her father’s side and she is of Māori descent on her mother’s side.
Tania completed a Bachelor of Education from the University of Waikato and a Master of Philosophy at the University of Auckland. The focus of her thesis was the transition of children from Te Kōhanga Reo to school and Māori education in the 1980s. She then went on to become the first to graduate from the School of Māori and Pacific Development at the University of Waikato with a PhD.
Her doctoral thesis looked at ways the New Zealand qualifications framework could be used as a tool for indigenous knowledge to be integrated and recognised as a valid part of the education system in New Zealand.
Her current research on the Dictionary of Cook Island Languages began in 2012 and the Cook Islands Prime Minister, Hon. Henry Puna, launched the Cook Islands Dictionary app in 2015.
"He said to me that we're lucky we have the ta'unga (elders) who were part of this research. They have the access to the knowledge and can influence how the language is shaped for our children in the future."
As the Director of Te Ipukarea, Tania says Māori and Pacific languages are interconnected as Polynesian languages.
“I'm committed to both Māori and Pacific languages. It helps that I have a blend of both Māori and Polynesian ancestry and I have been raised to regard my ancestry as one."
Tania says she has always been passionate about language, education, community and her heritage.
“My heritage is reflected in the languages that I speak and learn, and the stories that I tell my daughter. It helps me understand why I am the way I am.
“Language revitalisation has always been my passion and of great importance when working with the community. I want to know what their agenda is and what the community wants out of research."
Tania earned the title of Professor at the age of 37. She has always put the research priorities of her community first because it was the example set for her by her elders.
“My grandparents taught me to understand what is important to community. They said the higher you progress in education, the harder you must work and the more you must serve.
“I believe my work in the Pacific is never going to stop and it will always run parallel to our Māori language research. It’s got to keep going because we are all connected."