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Cook Islanders celebrated for service in NZ New Year Honours

Thursday 4 January 2024 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in Entertainment, Features, Weekend

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Cook Islanders celebrated for service in NZ New Year Honours
Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem, University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau, with the 2022 Metge Medal for intellectual leadership on gendered social relations and development studies. She has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Royal Society NZ/24010329

A community worker, educationalist, and journalist are among the Cook Islanders who have been recognised in the New Zealand New Year Honours list 2024.

Three Cook Islanders were among the 12 Pacific people who were named in the New Year Honours List released last week.

Community worker Rai Vaeruarangi of Wiri, Auckland, received the Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) for services to the Cook Islands community, TVNZ’s Barbara Helen Dreaver of Auckland was made the Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit and Professor Yvonne Jasmine Te Ruki Rangi o Tangaroa of Auckland received the Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Dreaver was honoured for services to investigative journalism and Pacific communities while Professor Underhill was recognised for services to tertiary education and Pacific development.

In a statement, the NZ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said Vaeruarangi has contributed to the Wiri community since the 1980s through various organisations.

She was a committee member of the Wiri Whānau Support Group between 1984 and 2008, which included time organising the Wiri Neighbourhood Police Team.

Vaeruarangi established a Cook Islands language nest, initially from her own home in 1991, which later operated from the Wiri Community House until 1996.

She has been Cultural and Arts Community Trustee of Akatokamanava Mauke Enua Inc since 2009 and has been involved in a range of displays and performances, including organising the Cook Islands Mauke cultural group’s performance at 2022 Te Toki Māori festival and co-organising the Te Mekameka O Toku Ipukarea Treasure of My Homeland display at Auckland Museum in 2021.


Community worker Rai Vaeruarangi of Wiri, Auckland, received the Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) for services to the Cook Islands community. FACEBOOK/24010328

Vaeruarangi is a Community Champion for the Wiri Neighbourhood for The Cause Collective’s One Love South Auckland initiative. She volunteers on the Board of Iramoko Marae and the committee of Mataatua Marae Mangere. She was on the Wiri Central Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1995, including time as chair, and president of the Manukau Central Kindergarten Committee from 1988 to 1996.

Professor Yvonne Underhill is a Pacific development geographer, undertaking research and teaching Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, and was Director of Development Studies from 2007 to 2014.

She served as deputy chair of the Inaugural Pacific Performance Based Review Fund (PBRF) Panel from 2015 to 2018, and was appointed inaugural deputy moderator (Pacific) for PBRF 2026.


Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem, University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau, with the 2022 Metge Medal for intellectual leadership on gendered social relations and development studies. She has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Royal Society NZ/24010329

Since 2016 she has led the establishment of “Tok Save”, the Pacific Gender Research Portal Reference Group, initially with the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University and now with SPC (The Pacific Community).

Professor Underhill served as co-chair of the Advisory Research Group for Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development between 2017 and 2019. Since 2020 she has contributed to the establishment of the Pacific Feminist Fund, an innovative investment and grant-making initiative to address gender inequality in the Pacific. Professor Underhill has contributed to the establishment of Oxfam in the Pacific since 2015.

Professor Underhill moved from the Cook Islands to Porirua when she was young. It is where she completed all her primary and secondary schooling.

She said she is proud her parents valued education.

“I’m gratified that a Pacific woman in the tertiary sector has been recognised,” Professor Underhill told RNZ Pacific.

“And also humbled because not many of us make it into the tertiary sector and I know all Pacific people who make it into the tertiary sector work really hard to get more Pacific people there.”

Dreaver is an award-winning investigative journalist who has dedicated her career to highlighting issues affecting Pacific communities for more than 30 years.


Barbara Dreaver was named Reporter of the Year 2023. Photo/Supplied/23122914

Following a stint with Cook Islands News as a reporter, Dreaver was co-owner of the Cook Islands Press from 1994 to 1998, before working for the New Zealand Listener and Radio New Zealand as a feature writer and reporter. She has been the Pacific Reporter for TVNZ 1 News since 2002, breaking stories uncovering social and economic issues affecting Pacific people living in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Her investigative journalism has exposed major fraud, drug smuggling, corruption and human trafficking, leading to multiple arrests and decisive government action. Her reporting of the 2019 Samoa measles outbreak won two major awards at New Zealand’s Voyager Media Awards. Domestically, her stories focus on advocating for vulnerable and marginalised Pacific communities.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, she self-produced daily regional Pacific bulletins for distribution in the islands and exposed the inequalities experienced by Pacific people during the response, resulting in changes in governmental policy and partnerships with Pasifika providers. In 2020, she created a two-year training programme through the Pacific Cooperation Broadcasting Ltd to support new Pacific journalists across the Pacific region.

Dreaver was appointed as a member of the Establishment Board for the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media body in 2022.