Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish
Māori leader

Pioneering champion of te reo Māori

Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish has been at the heart of New Zealand race relations since she asserted her right to speak te reo Māori more than 30 years ago.

As a cultural adviser in Pākehā-dominated organisations, and as a leader of Māori organisations, Glavish has rarely been far from public life since her "kia ora" moment in 1984 when she was a telephone toll-call operator for the Post Office, which then ran most telephone services.

Punished by the government department's hierarchy, but publicly supported by Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, Glavish had made her mark by insisting on using the Māori greeting with callers.

"I was being told that I was to disregard my language, my upbringing, my heart and soul," said Glavish, whose first language was Māori and who was brought up by her grandmother.

Before the dispute went public, she had considered quitting "kia ora" at work, until, while driving across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, she heard her grandmother's voice say in Māori, "This is far greater than you."

Three years later Māori was made an official language of New Zealand.

Glavish went on to become a high school teacher of Māori language and tikanga (protocol), before moving into the health sector, where she has made it mainstream to accommodate Māori ways.

Beginning in 1990 as the then-regional health board's bicultural manager, she is now chief adviser on tikanga and general manager of Māori health at the Waitematā and Auckland district health boards.

Along the way she has been a cultural adviser to a number of crown entities, including the police, and has been a member of others, including the Māori Heritage Council.

She has headed her Ngāti Whātua iwi rūnanga, been president of the Māori Party, stood for Parliament for the Māori Party and as a Mana Motuhake member of the Alliance.

Glavish was made a dame in this year's New Year Honours, for services to Māori and the community.