Indigenous language expert wins Mason Durie Medal

Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland Professor Stephen May (FRSNZ) has been awarded the prestigious Mason Durie Medal by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Professor Stephen May, winner of the 2023 Mason Durie Medal.

Indigenous language expert Professor Stephen May from Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland has won the Mason Durie Medal, awarded by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

The medal recognises his outstanding contributions to the social sciences for his language rights and revitalisation work, which has spanned the disciplines of applied and sociolinguistics, sociology, political theory, law and education.

Based in Te Puna Wānanga, School of Māori and Indigenous Education, Professor May focuses on how modern nation-states can best manage diversity in an increasingly globalised age, particularly relating to language and education policy, and alongside their Indigenous and multicultural obligations.

His work has informed and underpinned developments in te reo Māori and Pacific language policy, and bilingual and immersion education in Aotearoa over the last 30 years; and his research on best practices in Indigenous and minority language education globally has led to his status as a world authority on language rights, language policy, and language education.

As well as in Aotearoa New Zealand, he has informed academic and policy developments in contexts as diverse as Vanuatu, Samoa, and Micronesia in Oceania, Myanmar, China, Estonia, Basque Country, and Wales, as well as US Native American and Canadian First Nations language education; with the latter including policy development by the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Stephen May with with inaugural marae manager Warahi Paki, and Linda Paki, outside Tūtahi Tonu marae on Epsom Campus.

Professor May’s research has also provided critical legal bases for language rights and language policy more broadly, including informing the development of UNESCO’s international framework on minority language rights.

He has provided expert witness testimony in key national legal cases heard by the Waitangi Tribunal on te reo Māori (WAI 262) and Māori-medium education (WAI 2336), and internationally before the Supreme Court in Canada.

He says it’s an incredible honour to receive the Mason Durie Medal, particularly given the pioneering influence of Professor Durie’s work in Māori and Indigenous research over many years, which has informed his own and so many others’ ongoing work in these areas.

“I’m very mindful that the work I do simply could not have been accomplished without the whanaungatanga, tautoko, and āwhina of my colleagues, particularly in Te Puna Wānanga in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

“I also want to acknowledge all those I have worked with nationally and internationally over the years to explain, defend, support and promote the importance of Indigenous language revitalisation and education, as well as the right to bilingual and multilingual education for these and other minoritised language speakers.

“Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi. Engari, he toa takitini.”

It’s an incredible honour to receive the Mason Durie Medal, particularly given the pioneering influence of Professor Durie’s work in Māori and Indigenous research over many years.

Professor Stephen May Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland

The Mason Durie Award complements his other significant national roles and recognition, which include being made a Fellow of Te Apārangi/RSNZ (FRSNZ) in 2016 and receiving the NZARE McKenzie Award for lifetime achievement in educational research in 2018.

It stands alongside his international awards as a Fulbright Senior Scholar (2008) and an AERA Fellow (2015). The interdisciplinary nature of his work is exemplified by his roles as founding editor of the journal Ethnicities (Sage, since 2001), and as editor-in-chief of the 10-volume Encyclopedia of Language and Education (Springer, 3rd Ed. 2017).

Professor May was also the inaugural convenor of the Social and Behavioural Sciences for Te Apārangi, the Royal Society of New Zealand and is currently the co-chair of the TEC Education Panel for the 2026 PBRF round.

The Mason Durie Medal is awarded to the nation’s pre-eminent social scientist. It is intended to recognise an outstanding contribution to the social sciences which, while originating in a New Zealand environment, has had an international impact.

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