Hirini Mead was born in Wairoa, attended St Stephen’s School and Te Aute College and trained to be a teacher at Auckland Teachers’ College. He graduated with a Diploma in Teaching (1962), B.A. (1964) and M.A. (1965) from Auckland University, and PhD (1968) from Southern Illinois University.
From 1947-48 Mead taught at Manutahi District High School and became an Itinerant Art Advisor for the East Coast schools in 1949, and for the Urewera, Whakatane and Tauranga schools in 1950. Mead and his wife, June, took up dual appointments (Headmaster and Senior Mistress) at Minginui Māori School (1951-57), Waimarama Māori School (1957-60), and Whatawhata School (1960-62).
Mead was subsequently appointed as Assistant lecturer (1963-65), Lecturer (1968-70) and Senior Lecturer in Māori Studies (1970-71) in Auckland University’s Anthropology Department. From 1971-76 he took up appointments overseas and was Associate Professor (Visiting) at McMaster University from 1971-71; Canadian Commonwealth Fellow at the University of British Columbia from 1972-73; and Associate Professor at McMaster University from 1973-76.
On returning to New Zealand, Mead became founding Professor of Māori at Victoria University of Wellington and established the first Department of Māori Studies in New Zealand along with the first university based marae on a campus – Te Herenga Waka. He also saw the establishment of both the Masters and PhD programmes in Māori. Mead was responsible for introducing Cook Island and Samoan Studies into university studies at Victoria University.
After his retirement from Victoria University in 1991, Mead created the tribal university (Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi) in Whakatane and was chair of the Establishment Committee (1990-97), Council member (1997- ), Chair of Council (2004-) and part time lecturer from 1992-2003.
Alongside his academic positions, Mead has held many other key roles and responsibilities. He was the appointed scholar for the groundbreaking Te Māori exhibition and gave many lectures in the US during the exhibition. Mead founded the Pacific Arts Association that has its headquarters in Honolulu and presided over the association up till 1989. He has chaired Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa and was Chief Negotiator for Ngāti Awa Treaty claims from 1992-2005. In this role he guided Ngāti Awa through the Waitangi Tribunal process to hear WAI-46 from 1994-95 and saw the negotiation process through to its final conclusion in March 2005.
In 2003 he was appointed to the Waitangi Tribunal. Mead is currently the Visiting Scholar for NZEALS-NZ Educational, Administration and Leadership Society and will deliver a paper at six centres throughout New Zealand.
Mead holds many memberships (current and past) including the Polynesian Society, Association of University Teachers, Wellington Language Teachers’ Association, Royal Society of New Zealand, New Zealand Council for Educational Research, and Te Matawhanui (Māori University Teachers’ Association). He was a member of the New Zealand Geographic Board in the late 1980s when Mount Egmont was renamed Mount Taranaki, and was a member of the Atlas Māori Committee for the publication of The New Zealand Atlas published by Internal Affairs Department in 1997.
Mead has been the recipient of many awards, prizes and fellowships in recognition of his enormous contribution to Māori research. In 1965 he won the Anthropology Prize at the University of Auckland. He was Carnegie Commonwealth Scholar from 1965-67, recipient of the Wenner-Gren Pre-doctoral Museum Fellowship from 1967-68, and the Canadian Commonwealth Research Fellowship from 1972-73. In 1983 he was awarded an Elsdon Best Memorial Medal and the following year received a Pacific Arts Association Manu Daula (Frigate Bird) Award. In 1986 Mead and wife, June, were both appointed Cultural Ambassadors by the Hon. Mike Moore who said in his citation that “they have done great work for New Zealand overseas, voluntarily and without payment. The ambassadorships are one way of recognising their efforts and their mana overseas” [Evening Post 4 April 1986]. In 1990 he was appointed Fellow of the Royal Society of NZ. In 1999 he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Auckland, and in 2002 was appointed Distinguished Professor of Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi.
Mead has written a large number of seminal non-fiction publications, Māori language stories and poetry. In 1991 Mead was awarded first prize in the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Award for The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Volume 1. 1769-1869. He won the Montana NZ Book Awards for Reference and Anthology in 2002 and received a Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd 95th year Distinguished Author Award in recognition of 50 years of continuous publishing history.
Mead has also written the lyrics for many songs in Māori and is a member of the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA). He is currently translating into English Nga Moteatea Book 4.
"Sir Hirini was instrumental in establishing the Maori tertiary institution, Te Whare Wananga o Awanui-a-rangi, in Whakatane, he has also a long involvement in the affairs of his iwi, Ngati Awa, and is head of its Trust Board. He led the Treaty Settlement negotiations for Ngāti Awa and a settlement was concluded in 2005. Hirini is now a sitting Member of The Waitangi Tribunal.
In 2007 Sir Hirin was made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to Māori and Education and he was Knighted in 2009."
- Correspondence from Professor Hirini Mead 23 June 2004.
- Email correspondence from June Mead 19 April, 3, 5, 12 May, 28, 29 July, 1 and 4 August, 14 Sept. 2005.
- Te Ha questionnaire, January 1992.
- Waitangi Tribunal Website. Wellington, N.Z. http://www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
https://mlt.org.nz/the-pikihuia-awards/the-2011-pikihuia-awards/2011-sir-hirini-moko-mead/ 9 September 2016