Te reo revitalisation: Iwi charged with bigger role in saving language

By Yvonne Tahana

Today marks the start of the 38th Te Wiki o te Reo Maori (Maori Language Week). It began in 1975 amid concerns about the health of the language and has grown into a week where community groups, companies and schools celebrate with a raft of activities.

Maori culture and crafts will feature during the week's celebrations around the country. Photo / Liz St George
Maori culture and crafts will feature during the week's celebrations around the country. Photo / Liz St George

The Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples, is calling for more iwi investment in te reo revitalisation and a wider acceptance from Maori that the language still stands in a precarious position.

Census data from 2001 to 2006 revealed a drop in ability to hold an everyday conversation in Maori from 25.2 to 23.7 per cent. The figures are the most recent available until this year's figures are released.

A new government language strategy is due by the end of the year but officials are already signalling that community initiatives which aim to get Maori speaking their own reo within their homes are an increasing focus.

An independent report, Te Reo Mauriora, commissioned by the minister in 2011, estimates that $600 million is spent on education, broadcasting, culture and heritage initiatives. Of that, just 2 per cent is spent on community initiatives where results are measurable.

The report recommended that priority funding should be given to programmes that work with families and communities with a commitment to te reo.

Dr Sharples said this year's Budget, which put aside $8 million for a new research and development fund and an increase in funding for Ma Te Reo (a contestable pot administered by Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Maori Language Commission to support projects that increase language use and proficiency) was a start towards supporting communities better.

Separate from the Budget the Government was also considering an additional $15.2 million for communities' engagement in learning te reo maori in homes and on marae.

"We got a reasonable amount of funding this year to go in that direction, but I would say there's a responsibility on the Maori people themselves to come to the party on this," Dr Sharples said.

"It's just lopsided if people think that Government will pay for our reo and we just sort of take it as provided. I think since we started kohanga reo and kura kaupapa there was an initial burst for both of those initiatives but they've stayed the same now - they need to grow.

"I'm speaking honestly here because some of our people need a bomb put under them and I really mean that because we pay lip service. I think a lot of us have to get serious about this if we want to save the language because we're not out of the woods."

Iwi had a role to play financially and in driving enthusiasm. To not do so risked losing special dialectal idioms and manners.

"There's been two reviews recently and they both say similar things: iwi and hapu own te reo Maori and must be involved somewhere down the line. So we need iwi to motivate their own people, their own hapu to get involved in learning."

None of this would minimise government responsibility, he said.

"I think they really see there is something to be done here, they have a responsibility but I don't really think they see the enormity of the task in front of us. That's my job, to create that possibility of them seeing it as something we owe Maori people because of our history and what's happened in the past and actually get it on to a higher level priority."

Taura Whiri chief executive Glenis Philip-Barbara said language revitalisation for communities relied on sustained immersion, inter-generational transmission and language being relevant to every social context.

She said attitudes towards language use were on an upward "warming" trend and an environment where language use was welcomed as a positive indicator for change.

Social media were a bright spark in the revitalisation journey.

"It has a huge role to play because it generates the kind of access to Maori language on a grand scale that frankly, we've never been able to afford before. It creates a different kind of paepae [stage] and it gives people a sense of freedom to express themselves."

Maori language week

What's on in Auckland today:
*7am-8.30am: Te Wiki o te Reo Maori resources and fruit handed to passengers at Britomart train station. Entertainment: kapa haka.
*8.30am-9.30am: Formal launch of the week by Minister Pita Sharples at Rangitoto Room, Mercure Hotel, cnr Customs and Queen Sts.
*Launch of Te Wiki o te Reo Maori waiata by Tawaroa Kawana. Entertainment: Tawaroa Kawana, kapa haka.
*Around the country there will be an emphasis on Maori place names this week. Tomorrow morning Takapuna Intermediate will host a "tucker-puna" breakfast to raise awareness of how to say the place names correctly. Starts at 7.30am.

- NZ Herald

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