Making te reo Maori strong 2018

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori/Māori Language Week began on Monday September 10 and runs until September 16. This year's theme is Kia Kaha Te Reo Māori or Let's make the Māori language strong. LAUMATA LAUANO looks at some of the discussion around how and why we need to make te reo stronger.



Earlier this year I, a Kiwi-born Samoan, participated in a discussion about whether or not Te Reo should be compulsory. As someone who grew up speaking two languages I know the benefits of being able to speak more than one language but I appreciate that the topic is hotly contested, so I’ll quietly leave my arguments in the video below.


It’s the 45th year since the first Māori language week in 1975, and just 31 years since the language was made an official language of New Zealand under the Maori Language Act 1987.


However still only 3 percent of New Zealand speak te reo Maori, and the debate for making the language compulsory in schools continues to divide opinion around the nation.


The Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta, during the AM Show earlier this week, said te reo will be a "core subject" in primary and intermediate schools by 2025.


But she admitted that there is a "huge challenge ahead" to reach that goal, with the nation in the midst of a teacher shortage - let alone teachers that can speak Māori.


However according to Associate Education Minister (Māori Education) Kelvin Davis the Government is focused on supporting teachers to use te reo in the classroom, including through the $13 million Te Ahu o Te Reo Māori package, announced in Budget 2018.


With a further $20m being allocated in the Budget to increase the supply of teachers, including Māori medium and te reo Māori teachers .


"Teachers will have access to tailored courses, peer networks and resources to increase their capability, proficiency and confidence to deliver te reo Māori in the classroom."


Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) at Victoria University, Professor Rawinia Higgins, who leads research into how we can revitalise te reo to strengthen and increase its role and usage, says key questions underpinning her research are ‘who should take responsibility for the language’ and ‘how can revitalisation be promoted in a way that is inclusive for everybody’?


Professor Higgins says we should not underestimate people’s desire to participate in the revitalisation of te reo, but for that to happen they need the tools, ability and opportunities to use the language in different forums.


She suggests bilingual signage and bilingual documents to normalise usage and encourage everyone to embrace te reo as a nation, noting how te reo has increasingly influenced how Kiwis speak English.


“Often now you hear words such as mana, whānau and mokopuna used as part of everyday English.


“Remember it was only recently that our national anthem became bilingual. There is a generation of children growing up now who do not know that for many decades the New Zealand national anthem was only sung in English.”


However the largest way to strengthen te reo is by and large via policy and a greater understanding of New Zealand history, because the story of the decline and revival of the Māori language is one of the major issues in modern New Zealand history.


There was a time when some people objected to hearing Māori greetings such as ‘Kia ora’, a time when children were punished for speaking te reo at school, a time when only English was seen as the language of success and advancement even in Maori homes.


So the promotion of te reo Māori in schools, in the public sphere and even at home, requires support by State policy and resources.


This is critical for not only Māori children, but for all children, says Professor Higgins.


“If Māori is their first language they will have a sense of connection and pride in who they are as a nation.”


Ms Mahuta said research shows learning a second language, particularly at an early age, can do wonders for the brain.


She says that in New Zealand, that second language should be Māori.


"I want people to celebrate that as a country we are unique, and we're proud because we always punch above our weight - and that the language is a clear identifier of our unique personality and characteristics."


And, despite my first language being Samoan, I agree.