Susan Devoy: Let's spell out our determination to embrace NZ culture

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When Hinewehi Mohi first sung our national anthem in Maori at a rugby test in England, there were howls of indignation. Photo / APN
When Hinewehi Mohi first sung our national anthem in Maori at a rugby test in England, there were howls of indignation. Photo / APN

Tracing my whakapapa or family tree is something I'm looking forward to and there are some awesome people who are going to help me do it.

By the time my mokopuna are at school I hope they'll know more about their whakapapa than their grandmother did.

So I've been trying to learn te reo for a year or so. Trying is the operative word because it's not easy. Like most Kiwis I'm monolingual, which means I was brought up speaking one language and that language permeated every inch of the nation I call home.

I grew up in Rotorua where Maori culture, language and people are a huge part of our identity.

But even here in the Bay of Plenty, the stronghold of Te Arawa and Mataatua, the anti-anything-Maori mentality is still strong.

A good example can be found in Tauranga, where a few are making a maunga out of a molehill over the addition of a macron over the u in Otumoetai.

One local commentator's maunga is so huge he's resorted to profanity. I wrote and told him freedom of speech is a right but his words aren't about freedom of speech, they're just offensive. This issue isn't about a Maori name versus a Pakeha name, it's about the correct spelling of the Maori name.

The changes will take place when the signs need replacing, so there's no burden on the taxpayer either.

A hugely significant pa site, Otumoetai is also a major suburb and home to many children who deserve to know how to pronounce the name of the place they live in.

When Hinewehi Mohi first sung our national anthem in Maori at a rugby test in England, there were howls of indignation. "How dare she?" some cried. But 15 years later, singing God Defend New Zealand in te reo is something done loudly and proudly by thousands of Kiwis.

Like South Africa we publicly and proudly highlight our national languages before every test.

But to give them their dues, the Springboks beat us to it. Four years before Hinewehi sung E Ihowa Atua, the Springboks stood alongside President Nelson Mandela to sing their anthem in five of the republic's 11 national languages.

The centre of gravity of public opinion regarding te reo Maori has shifted significantly since 1999 and we have many people and, particularly, our own children to thank.

Unlike a lot of their elders, Kiwi kids don't bat an eyelid at te reo because they know Maori language and culture doesn't threaten them; our kids know it's one of the things that makes us Kiwis and our country not just unique, but also totally awesome.

Dame Susan Devoy is the Race Relations Commissioner.

- NZ Herald

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