Sir Mason Durie is from the Ngāti Kauwhata, Ngäti Raukawa and Rangitane tribes. He was educated at Te Aute Māori Boys College and completed a medical degree at the University of Otago in 1963 before undertaking postgraduate training in psychiatry at McGill University, Montreal (1966-1970). Subsequently he became Director of Psychiatry at the Palmerston North Hospital; a Member of the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry (1971), and a Fellow of the College (in 1979). He obtained a D.Litt (by examination) from Massey University in 2002 and subsequently was awarded a D.LL (Otago University) and a D.Sc (Simon Fraser University).
Between 1986-1988 he served on the New Zealand Royal Commission on Social Policy and in 1988 accepted a position at Massey University as Professor and Head of Te Pūtahi a Toi, School of Māori Studies. Up until retirement in June 2012 was Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Māori Research and Development.
Apart from ongoing interests in health and social policy, he has contributed to the broader field of Māori development and has published widely on Māori health, Māori policy, the Treaty of Waitangi, Māori education and whānau development.
During 2009 he chaired the Ministerial Taskforce on Whānau Centred Initiatives and from 2011 was chair of the Whānau Ora Governance Group. In 2018 he was also a panel member for the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addictions.
In 2010 he was knighted for services to public health and to Maori health.