Tānia Ka’ai was born in Auckland, studied at Kawerau College and was a Rotary Exchange Student in the United States in 1975. On returning to New Zealand, Ka’ai majored in Māori and Education at Waikato University and completed primary teachers’ training. She graduated with a Diploma of Teaching in 1978, a B.Ed in 1979 and a Diploma of Education in 1980. She went on to teach at Whakatane Intermediate School and Hawera Intermediate before being seconded as an Itinerant Teacher of Māori in the Taranaki region. Following a period of overseas travel, Ka’ai undertook relieving teaching positions in New Plymouth where she taught at the Girls’ High, Spotswood College, Waitara High School, and Manukorihi Intermediate. In 1984 she began studying towards a Masters Degree in Auckland while teaching in the STEPS programme and part-time teaching at a Rudolph Steiner school.
In 1984 Ka’ai gave birth to her daughter, Rachael Te Āwhina, and became involved in the Te Kōhanga Reo movement. In 1985 she was employed as a researcher under contract to the Department of Education at Auckland University and in 1987 was appointed Lecturer in Māori Studies at the Auckland College of Education. From 1988-89, Ka’ai conducted research in Auckland for the Curriculum Review Research in Schools Project (CRRISP) for the Department of Education at Waikato University. In 1990, she graduated M.Phil and became a Lecturer in Education at the College of Education. In the following year, she was promoted to Senior Lecturer and was given responsibility for coordinating the B.Ed degree for the School of Early Childhood. In 1995, Ka’ai was conferred with her PhD in Māori at Waikato University and in 1996 was appointed Foundation Chair and Head of the Department of Māori Studies at Otago University. She is now Dean of Te Tumu, the School of Māori, Pacific & Indigenous Studies at Otago. In 2003 she graduated with a Management Development Programme Certificate from Harvard University.
Ka’ai has been actively involved in many Māori and iwi education projects and has worked with NZQA on a number of initiatives. In 1991 she was a member of the Education Task Force for Te Runanga o Ngāti Porou and in the same year assisted Te Kohanga Reo National Trust with the development and writing of their Tino Rangātiratanga Whakapakari Kaiako Training Programme. In 1994-95 she was national co-ordinator of the E Tipu E Rea Māori Parenting Programme for the Māori Women’s Welfare League. Ka’ai was a member of the Māori Assessing Panel for HRC Grants in 1998 and was a member of the Araiteuru Marae Council in 1999. She is a member of the National Association of Māori Mathematicians, Scientists and Technologists (NAMMSAT) and has been on the Editorial board for He Pūkenga Kōrero – A Journal of Māori Studies (1997-2003). She has memberships on the Māori Reference Group for the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology, (2001-2003); Board of Academic Studies, Te Tapuae o Rehua: Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (2000-2003); Māori Strategy Reference Group for the Tertiary Education Commission (2003-2004) and is currently a director on Literacy Aotearoa Board. In 2000 she was an independent assessor for New Zealand Lottery Grants Board for a Lottery Health Research Grant.
Ka’ai has been a consultant to NZQA for Māori specific unit standards. She was a member of the Accreditation Panel to assess the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Teacher Training Programme and was part of the NZQA Working Party to develop a Bachelor Degree for Teachers of Māori, based on Recognised Prior Learning and experience in teaching solely in Te Reo Māori. She was convenor of NZQA Working Party to develop a comprehensive handbook for Māori Private Training Establishments and was a member of the Māori Tertiary Action Group (MTEAG), NZQA for the development of Degree qualifications based on Māori specific unit standards. Ka’ai was a member of the international Task Force for the development of the Coolangatta Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Education.
Ka’ai has been the recipient of various research grants including an Otago Research Grant in 1997-98 for researching Ngoi – A Celebration of Her Life – Tō Aroha He karere Ki Te Ao. She received another Otago Research Grant in 2000 to research “Māori Men’s Experience of Prostate Disease – The Role of Language”. Subsequently, she received a Divisional Research Grant to research “the relationship between Ngāti Porou and Ngāi Tahu through genealogy, oral and tribal history.”
Ka’ai belongs to the Waiatarau Branch of the Māori Women’s Welfare League; Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare me Te Whānau-a-Te Aotāwarirangi, Ngāti Porou; and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Wheke, Ngāi Tahu.
Along with non-fiction writing, Ka’ai writes poetry and waiata and choreographs material for the Māori performing arts. She has kept a journal since the age of eight and writes in both Māori and English. She comes from a strong iwi base which is the motivating force behind her writing. She also has strong genealogical ties to the Pacific. Ka’ai wrote early papers under the name Tania Ka’ai-Oldman.
"Ka’ai has worked in tertiary education for 21 years; 12 of these in university education as a Professor. She joined Te Ara Poutama in July 2007 and was appointed Director of Te Ipukarea – the National Māori Language Institute in July 2008 and Director, International Centre of Language Revitalisation in 2011."
- Interview with Tania Ka’ai August 1992.
- Correspondence from Professor Ka’ai on 30 Sept. 2004.
http://www.teipukarea.maori.nz/en/about/staff 7 September 2016