Māori Language Week

News News & events

15 Aug 2014

By Hana O’Regan

CPIT Kaiārahi and Director Student Services Division

In the past few weeks we have been confronted in our media with shocking reports of racial profiling and discrimination that have certainly cast a dark shadow over what many would prefer to believe are normally positive race relations in New Zealand. It’s not good enough that someone should be publically singled out and humiliated and dispersions cast about their integrity as honest citizens just because of their ethnicity, whether they are in a supermarket, public baths or anywhere in our community. If we are going to feel good about the social fabric of society and the environment we are raising the next generation of New Zealand leadership up in, we really need to be better than that. Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – The Māori Language week, gives us the perfect opportunity to show to ourselves and others just how positive, inclusive, respectful and open we can be as a country, and given the events of the last fortnight, it probably couldn’t have come at a better time.

In my experience by far the majority of our community are genuine about their desire to be accepting of other cultures and languages and who truly celebrate the benefits that diversity brings with it. That doesn’t mean of course that everyone is equally comfortable in diverse environments, and that is due in part to our isolation as a country and for the fact that for the majority of our history we have promoted a very monolingual and mono-cultural way of being.

This has meant that many New Zealanders have not had the opportunity to explore other languages and cultures or in particular, to learn about the presence and role that Māori language has played in our own history as a nation. What we find is that where we have a lack of exposure or knowledge in an area, there is an increasing nervousness around it and in some cases that translates as fear. We become afraid of what we don’t understand or can’t engage in and even more fearful of engaging in it lest we unintentionally cause offence. Avoidance is often used is such circumstances as a way of self-protection – and this is completely normal.  It is often this situation that leads many New Zealanders to opting out of positive engagement in te reo.

The unfamiliarity of the language, coupled with the fear of offending or being corrected, can mean many people choose not to engage and ‘give it a go’. I am often surprised to learn of how many people have lived their whole lives in our country and who may be well travelled to all parts of the world, but who have not themselves ever been on to a marae or participated in a formal welcome ceremony. There comes a time however, when we need to break out from the known and the comfortable, and engage with the new and challenging.

The theme of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori this year ‘Te Kupu o te Wiki’ – The word of the week, allows us to take bite-sized small steps, focusing at one new word a week for the next 50 weeks to learn, promote, use and celebrate and by doing so, we can start to show ourselves just how inclusive and positive we really can be. We can be proud of who we are and where we are in the world and proud of the language that is intrinsically New Zealand. Te Wiki o Te Reo gives us permission to give it a go!

We will need to be deaf to the critics for there will be some; to the small minded members of society who believe our Māori language has no place in our country and who fail to see how much richer we all are for its presence in our communities and lives. The best response in my experience is a smile and a nicely delivered ‘Kia Ora’, which literally means ‘be well, be living’, and also a quick reminder to self – that what effort you are personally making is appreciated by so many. Every Māori word that you use and promote, every time you make the effort to pronounce a name correctly, is testimony to the kind of people we really are, and who we want to be seen and heard to be.

Let us be the kind of New Zealander’s we are when we are overseas, where we are more than willing to experience other cultures and practice using what little language we might be able to acquire of the hosting countries we visit. We will ‘give it a go’ without the pangs of anxiety of getting it wrong or offending, because we know we are okay if we do it from a basis of respect. Let us be the kind of New Zealanders who burst with pride at the site of a New Zealand brand of clothing or when they see someone sporting a piece of pounamu around their neck or a silver fern on someone else’s back in the Tube in London, and simultaneously burst out with enthusiastic ‘Kia Ora’s all round.

Let us be brave enough to realise what we have on our own doorstep, a language that is the youngest of the biggest language family in the world, and belongs right here – in our country, something we can celebrate, that helps define who we. Let us behave in the way that models to the next generation what is right, and instead of feeling like cringing and hiding when we hear the cries of the racist few, let our voices be the ones that are heard. Arohatia te reo – let’s love our language!