Embracing Te Reo: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Jeanette King, Hana O'Regan (head manager of Oranga at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu), lecturer Hēmi Kelly and writer/broadcaster Miriama Kamo gathered early on Sunday morning to kōrero about one of our official languages, te reo Māori.

All agreed that there has been a positive shift in the last few years towards te reo, a gathering of momentum or fruition from the hard work from the past decades. There has been a nationwide increase in enrolments of those learning te reo Māori, and presence in the media has been increasing, with reporters all the way up to our Prime Minister using te reo on TV and radio. Exciting times!

Miriama was keen to capitalise on this goodwill by starting to teach our history properly in schools to understand what we as a country have gotten wrong or right, to understand who we are and where we come from through an historical perspective. For her pronunciation is a key place to start: "For me I love to hear people trying, even if you get it wrong your heart's in the right place. This is our official language! We should be owning it, wanting to speak it." This is especially important for those with a Māori name: "If you don't pronounce my name properly it's not really my name, is it?" Something close to my heart as someone whose name is also frequently mispronounced.

Ngā whetū matariki i whānakotia

Hana thought promoting te reo as a normal part of our community is an important step in getting over our fear of bilingualism or multilingualism. We're all still caught up in the historical narrative that learning more than one language compromises our ability to use our first tongue, or that te reo isn't useful, which isn't supported by the evidence at all: we're actually doing our children a disservice by raising them monolingual. "Bilingualism is a benefit to everyone — it doesn't matter what language it is, but the positive impact is compounded [with te reo] because it's connected with our history and the land." Hēmi agreed, pointing out that as New Zealanders none of us are that far removed from te reo Māori as we are surrounded by Māori place names and kupu that are in common usage.

When Jeanette asked about those who feel hesitant to learn and speak te reo due to worrying about appropriating yet another aspect of Māori culture, Hana shook her head. "I can't even comprehend a negative reaction to someone learning to speak Māori. Every person who uses te reo is actually showing not just respect but is doing their bit to make sure this important part of our heritage is still around." In fact as more people learn te reo and we hear more around us, the easier and quicker it will be to learn, and the easier it will be to find teachers who can teach te reo. The struggle to find qualified teachers is one major obstacle for immediately making te reo Māori compulsory in schools, so a graduated approach is recommended. Making sure all graduating teachers have a certain proficiency would be a good first step.

It takes a short time to demolish a house but it takes a lot longer to built it — Christchurch knows this! It takes longer to reconstruct something that has been destroyed. Don't get disappointed by the first hurdle, or pot hole or road block. Good things take time and Aotearoa is worth it. — Hana O'Regan

This goes also for those struggling to learn te reo — just because you're not amazingly fluent straight away doesn't mean you should give up! Every bit you learn is helping those around you as well as yourself. Hēmi: "Everybody in this room is a change agent."

A Māori word a day

To help you make a start, here's one kupu from Hēmi Kelly's A Māori Word a Day:

hua (n) product, result, outcome, benefit, gain.

He nui ngā hua o te mōhio ki ngā reo e rua. There are a lot of benefits in being bilingual.

Mā te mahi ngātahi e kitea ai ngā hua. Through working together, the results will be seen.

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