Our Māori Governance Body

Te Rūnanga Māori

Te Rūnanga Māori has a direct link to the Ako Aotearoa Board, providing regular advice and taking overall responsibility for developing our Māori strategy and our service delivery framework, Te Tauākī Ako.

AKO Staff Profiles lee cooper

Dr Lee Cooper

Co-Chair | TEU Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa


Lee represents Te Tira Whakahaere of Te Toi Tauira mō Te Matariki on the Rūnanga where he’s been a member since 2015 and Deputy Chair from 2018. He has been on Te Manu Mātauranga organising kōmiti since the 2010 inaugural Tuia Te Ako conference and chaired from 2011.

He has almost 20 years’ experience in academic and educational administration from the compulsory education sector to tertiary. Lee previously managed the Equity fund for Māori and Pasifika students at Auckland University and is presently Te Pou Tuarā for TEU Te Hautū Kahurangi.

Lee is passionate about working with Māori and Pākehā to develop and advance the Tiriti relationship, and is concerned with social justice and equity for all.

AKO Staff Profiles ivy harper

Ivy Harper


Ngāti Kahungunu / Tainui / Ngāpuhi

Ivy Harper has a demonstrated history of working in the education and environmental management arena, and has a keen interest in gender issues and human rights - particularly the rights of indigenous peoples.

Skilled in non-profit organisations, with strong research and analytical skills, Ivy completed an internship at Columbia University. There she studied indigenous rights and the rights of First Nations people whilst working with diplomats at the United Nations for the duration of her studies.

Ivy was able to bring these learnings back to Aotearoa where she continues to support Māori in the pursuit of their rights and interests.

AKO Staff Profiles Dame Iritana tawhiwhirangi

Dame Dr. Iritana Tawhiwhirangi

Nominated by Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust

Ngāti Porou / Ngāti Kahungunu / Ngāpuhi

Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi was one of the cornerstones of the Kōhanga Reo movement as a means to revitalize the Māori language.

Picking up on the playcentre philosophy of community ownership and management, Dame Tawhiwhirangi helped create a whānau development model that is not only underpinned by cultural and administrative sovereignty, but has also created new opportunities in education and employment for Māori women, and whānau involvement.

Internationally, the Kōhanga Reo model is now the established benchmark for the regeneration of indigenous languages.

AKO Staff Profiles kelly pender

Dr Kelly Pender

Ako Aotearoa Academy Member

Whakatōhea / Te Arawa

Kelly is a dynamic teacher and leader who excels in supporting his students to achieve their potential. He has a very diverse range of students on his programmes and goes out of his way to build a whānau ethos within each class. Every student is valued for the contribution they make. He acknowledges his own role models as he has developed as a teacher and works hard to be a role model himself.

Kelly was the recipient of an Award for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching at the 2010 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards. 

AKO Staff Profiles Teina Mataira

Teina Mataira

Nominated by Te Tira Manukura O Ngā Kuratini

Ngāti Porou / Ngāti Kahungunu

Teina Mataira has twenty years’ experience in tertiary education in the ITP (polytechnic) sector, having held roles in foundation education, teaching, lecturing, student support and education management at AUT, MIT and EIT (Tairawhiti). He is the currently Pouārahi - Director Maori and Pasifika Education, UCOL.

Teina is a member of the World Indigenous Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC) and is also studying towards a Masters of Māori-Pasifika Development at the University of Waikato. 

AKO TRM Karyn Paringatai

Dr Karyn Paringatai

Ako Aotearoa Academy Member

Ngāti Porou

Karyn has 20 years’ experience in tertiary education as a lecturer in Te Tumu – School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago, where she teaches primarily in the areas of Māori language, culture and performing arts. She was the recipient of an Award for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching in a Kaupapa Māori context and was also subsequently awarded the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Tertiary Teaching Excellence at the 2014 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards. 

Karyn is committed to the advancement of Māori knowledge and student success. She is a co-director of an Otago Research Theme, Poutama Ara Rau, alongside Professor Jacinta Ruru and Professor Suzanne Pitama, the aim of which is to research how Māori knowledge and teaching and learning pedagogies can transform tertiary teaching.

Ako TRM Nkhaya Paulsen More

Nkhaya Paulsen-More

Student representative

Ngāti Maru ki Hauraki, Ngāruahine, Ngāti Pūkenga

Nkhaya Paulsen-More is one of the Tumuaki Takirua (Co-Presidents) of Te Mana Ākonga, the National Māori Tertiary Students’ Association. She has been engaged in Māori student advocacy since 2019, and in her role at Te Mana Ākonga focuses on equitable outcomes for tauira Māori, ensuring that tauira are able to thrive during their tertiary studies.

Nkhaya is also a current postgraduate student at Te Herenga Waka (Victoria University of Wellington), studying a MA in Creative Writing. Her focus is on biculturalism, investigating the differences between Māori and South African identity.