Editorial: Te reo a sound basis for unity

By Kelly Makiha

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The world is full of beautiful sounds - including the sound of someone speaking fluent te reo Maori.

Likewise, the world is full of sounds that aren't so pleasant - like the sound of someone trying to pronounce Maori words.

I was in that category.

Growing up in Timaru, needless to say I wasn't exactly immersed in Maori culture. For those confused about my Maori surname, I used to be Kelly Blanchard before getting married six years ago.

Maybe we learnt about about Maori language and culture in school, but I don't remember it being a significant part.

Moving to the Bay of Plenty 16 years ago was a culture shock - particularly being handed the Maori affairs round by our then editor. He was obviously oblivious to my heritage, probably because of my summer tan and a bone carving I wore because I thought it looked cool.

One of my first tasks was covering a Te Arawa Maori Trust Board hui at Ohinemutu.

I'll never forget traipsing through Tamatekapua Meeting House in Rotorua wearing my Baby Spice-inspired boots and sitting up the front (on the paepae) next to Arapeta Tahana.

I couldn't believe how lucky I was to get a seat so close to the action. Arapeta was so polite. He leaned over and quietly said in my ear, "my dear, you're not supposed to be up here".

I'm horrified when I think about that experience now. It was total ignorance on my behalf.

But I also blame my education.

Not long after that hui, I enrolled in a Maori language course and hit the books to learn about tikanga (customs).

As we celebrate Maori Language Week this week, the debate about whether te reo Maori should be compulsory in schools has been reignited.

While students shouldn't be forced to become fluent in the language, we owe it to ourselves as New Zealanders to at least learn the basics.

If we all learnt a little language and tikanga, maybe we would be more tolerant of each other?

- Bay of Plenty Times

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