Dr Taonui is married to Rhia and has four children and two grandchildren. He was previously a lecturer in Pacific Studies, Māori Studies and History (Auckland University); Head of the School of Māori & Indigenous Studies (Canterbury University), the first Professor of Indigenous Studies in New Zealand (AUT University); and Head of the School of Māori Art, Knowledge and Education (Massey University). He is currently attached to the College of Humanities & Social Sciences and the Global Centre of Indigenous Leadership (Massey University).
Rawiri is a well-known political writer and commentator having written around 400 columns, articles and features and given about 900 interviews. He has won 7 writing awards and is currently writing four books: Te Mana Motuhake o te Mātauranga Māori - The Colonisation and Emancipation of Māori Knowledge, Ngā Tātai-Whakapapa - Dynamics in Māori Oral Traditions, A Historical Dictionary of Māori and Ka Whāwhai tonu mātou - Struggle without End - A History of Māori.
Professor Taonui taught the first Western Science & Indigenous Knowledge course in New Zealand in 1993 at Auckland University. In 2005 at Canterbury University he developed the first undergraduate and postgraduate Māori & Indigenous Studies, and, Te Reo Māori majors in a New Zealand university, where he also taught the first Indigenous Peoples undergraduate paper with a worldwide focus. Dr Taonui oversaw the revision of the Māori Studies BA major in Te Pūtahi ā Toi, including introducing a new minor in Te Reo Māori in 2017. The model he developed at Canterbury University is gradually being rolled out in schools of Māori and Indigenous Studies in universities across New Zealand.
He has reviewed several academic and support programmes, including at Waikato Polytechnic, Wellington Polytechnic, Waikato University and Massey University. He developed Awheawhe Pūkenga a cross-cultural programme for professional staff at Canterbury University.
Rawiri represented Massey University at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2017 and previously at the UN Experts Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2015. He was a member of the planning committee for the New Zealand Conference Recognising the 10th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Dr Taonui has also been appointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearing Claims of Genocide against Indigenous Peoples in El Salvador in 1932 which will sit in New York in 2019.
In his role as a senior indigenous staff member he has made on-going contributions to the strategic plans of Auckland, Canterbury and Massey University and contributed to promotions policies concerning indigenous Māori staff at Canterbury and Massey.
Dr Taonui is a member of the Māori Caucus of Ako Aotearoa – The National Institute of Excellence in Tertiary Teaching. Rawiri was the Māori representative on the subcommittee that developed the criteria for the National Teaching Award for Māori Tertiary Staff four recipients of which have gone on to the win the prestigious annual Prime Minister’s award for excellence in tertiary teaching.
He previously served as a member of Te Ara Wānanga – the Māori Advisory Committee for the Te Ara Online Encyclopaedia of New Zealand project. This year Rawiri was appointed to the Advisory Board of the New Zealand Welcoming Committee overseeing a new five region initiative integrating new migrants into New Zealand communities. Rawiri was previously a judge of the national Manu Korero competition.
Rawiri was previously a well-known outdoor expeditioner having completed several journeys re-tracing the footsteps of famous Māori explorers, such as Ngātoroirangi, Tia, Hineāmaru, Ihenga and Tamatea, traversing ancestral trade routes and other ‘hīkoi’ such as that by Tōhe from Spirits Bay to Dargaville and the migration of Tainui tribes to the Wellington region.