Te Atarangi Whiu: The tide is turning for Te Reo Maori

Middle NZ key to Te Reo enduring beyond Māori Language Week.
Normalising Te Reo Maori among our communities will naturally lead to greater acceptance of Te Reo Maori. Photo / Christine Corenage
Normalising Te Reo Maori among our communities will naturally lead to greater acceptance of Te Reo Maori. Photo / Christine Corenage

Te Atarangi Whiu is an advocate for Te Reo Māori, has tribal affiliations to Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Maniapoto.

On Sunday, TVNZ's Q&A political commentary used the phrase, "the tide is turning", in reference to our country's changing political landscape.

As the campaign for Maori Language Week 2016 concludes, it's a phrase that resonates with the changing societal landscape for Te Reo Maori.

Within a week, the tide turned for the Herald and its parent company, New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME), and the implications for the media landscape within New Zealand will be significant.

What began as a simple request by my family to place a memorial commemoration for our late mother soon transpired as an embarrassing illustration of outdated thinking by the Herald, when it initially refusal to print our memorial in Te Reo Maori only.

Fortuitously, as quickly as the tide goes out so too does it return, and there was a change of heart. NZME, along with the Herald, personally delivered a sincere apology, recognising that the practice to have an English translation alongside the Te Reo Maori memorial notice was archaic and offensive.

They have since revoked this practice and are creating a new respectful policy in relation to how they will treat our official indigenous language, Te Reo Maori, in print.

Seemingly small, the change has the potential for positive change across our country and abroad. Te Reo Maori now will have its own prominence within this media powerhouse, where our indigenous language will endure beyond the one week that New Zealanders celebrate Te Reo Maori.

Actively endorsing and encouraging this policy throughout NZME will preserve Te Reo Maori in a very ordinary but meaningful way, on and through the pages of our daily newspapers.

Census figures show the number of Maori language speakers is slowly declining. Media commentary during Maori Language Week suggests nervousness around "getting it wrong" and "being judged" are key inhibitors to learning or using Te Reo Maori.

This supports research citing that attitude and behaviour towards Te Reo Maori is a barrier that prevents people learning the language.

Normalising Te Reo Maori among our communities will naturally lead to greater acceptance of Te Reo Maori. We all can play a role in the revitalisation of Te Reo Maori. It doesn't have to be too onerous.

Small changes can have significant gains.

Yes, Te Reo Maori is the winner, but so too is NZME. Its simple policy change, "recognises and respects Te Reo is the language of our people", as stated in the Herald's editorial.

This is the paper's way to "protect and nurture Te Reo Maori, not just for Maori, nor New Zealanders, but rather for the world's linguistic wealth". This is its way to place Te Reo Maori on the global stage through normalising it on the pages of our newspapers.

But the tide is also turning for champions of Te Reo Maori. There is a new face, a new voice for Te Reo Maori.

In 1972 a Maori language march supported cries for what is now known as Maori Language Week. Their message was a call to action to save Te Reo Maori. Their message was rooted in loss.

In 2016, a song in Te Reo Maori Maimoatia, released during Maori Language week by vibrant Maori TV presenters, is going viral. Similarly, their message is the same as our predecessors in 1972, but this message is rooted in celebration and pride. It encourages the use of Te Reo Maori irrespective of ability. Te Reo Maori is cool, funky and culturally relevant.

I have no doubt the march in 1972 started from small beginnings culminating in a tidal wave of signatures presented to Parliament. I believe Maimoatia will enjoy similar success. But more importantly, both are actions at a moment of time that can realise significant gains.

As Maori Language Week concludes, another wave of Te Reo champions is at the forefront of the incoming tide -- middle New Zealanders.

TVNZ newsreader Peter Williams is challenging New Zealanders to sing just the Te Reo Maori version of our national anthem at the next All Blacks game. He muses that New Zealand needs to move beyond our one-week tokenistic celebration of our "beautiful sounding official language of Aotearoa".

Likewise, former All Black Andrew Mehrtens is encouraging New Zealanders to make an effort to embrace and normalise Te Reo Maori. He says Maori culture is our distinguishing feature and that we take pride in Maori culture particularly when overseas.

Let's celebrate Te Reo Maori here in our land, be the modern-day crusader for Te Reo Maori.

So, start small, take your first step into the shallows of the water before you wade in the incoming tide. Not everyone is a confident swimmer, some stay close to shore, others prefer the breaking waves.

You learn to read the water and keep an eye on fellow swimmers. Every time you return to the beach, your confidence grows and no doubt you share your favourite spot with others.

Think about the small things you can do to normalise Te Reo Maori. Think about how you can turn the Te Reo Maori tide within your own communities. The Te Reo Maori tide is turning.

- NZ Herald

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