If ever there was a benchmark to gauge what our cultural footprint looks like, and how far our long white language cloud has come to finding its feet over the past 20 years, then a church service is a good place to find out.

Last Sunday was a blessing, not so much from the beautiful bro Jesus looking down from the stained glass window above the pulpit, as it was from the congregation, who were attending the monthly Māori mass.

The waiata (hymns), the karakia (prayers) would have woken up the heavens with their message of faith and hope, but for me, it was the voices - of both Māori and non-Māori - who sang and prayed together in the Māori language that gave me the good buzz.

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There were prayers by Pākehā in perfectly pronounced te reo Māori and prayers by Māori in perfectly pronounced Pākehā.

All across the whare karakia (church) congregation, you could feel the spirit of kotahitanga, of oneness, as fellow human beings celebrated their bicultural diversity.

The bro Jesus was in the house - no question. Even a hard-line atheist would have got a good buzz inside Hohepa's Whare Karakia (Saint Joseph's Church) on Sunday.

To see it, sing it and pray it, is a taonga, a gift that more and more - from one Māori language week to the next - is opening up windows of understanding for our kids to look through and follow.

The other real good buzz about the unifying factor of the first language of Aotearoa and the way we are embracing it is the divisive door of separatism is slowly been shut.

A good litmus test to see where we are at with our Māori language is this very newspaper and its readers.

Not that long ago, in fact a decade or so, I suggested in a column we should look at learning the pronunciation and translated names of the places in our own backyard where we lived.

That did not go down to well and a hurricane of hate mail (pirau kōrero) came back at me.

I had to give the writing a rest for a few weeks after that, then slowly climbed back on the hōiho for another rodeo of writing columns to build bridges.

The same suggestion in a column five years ago hit the headlines - and this time the tyranny typhoon was downgraded to a category one storm.

Then in my last week's column, I again sowed the seed of taking ownership of the place names we live in by honouring their whakapapa (lineage).

Other than one councillor blowing in the wind about the name Tahataharoa being too long to pronounce at our council hearing last week, and me pointing out it had the same number of letters as their surname, there really has been but a slight breeze of pushback compared to 15 years ago.

Nō reira (however), It hasn't all been one-way traffic on the te reo hīkoi.

There are some who say Māori themselves need to walk their talk and if speaking te reo is all about tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) and kaitiakitanga (looking after the environment), then it starts at home, in the house, just as it does with the nurturing of the language itself.

Too often we hear fluent speakers flushing the problems we all face as a country and a community down the drain of separatism, and invoicing everything back to the blame game of the nation's colonial founding fathers.

I see it too often in the two worlds I walk in when it comes to looking after our whenua without poisoning it for future generations to inherit and again with the homeless, who have little but a thread of hope to hang on to.

Sadly, it is 90 per cent non-Māori who walk in our door to help our 90 per cent Māori homeless.

Surely the principals of tino rangatiratanga, kaitiakitanga and whanaungatanga (looking after family and whānau) are the cornerstone of any culture and learning how to live a language is equally as important - if not more important - than speaking it?

So how far have we come in the last 15 years?

Madiba, Nelson Mandela, once said it was a long walk home when finding the footprint of your indigenous culture.

For Māori, the normalisation journey of its treasured language is well on the way.

Perhaps, the wise words of a waiata about another pilgrimage to salvation sung often at the whare karakia say it all: "One day at a time, sweet Jesus."

This last week has been as much a raising of the bar as it has the horizon of hope for us as a country.

We truly have grown up by standing up for our cultural coolness.

We have one of the youngest hybrid 'Lo-Cool' languages on the planet.

It will define us, it will bring us together and it will set a benchmark beacon for other countries who have left their indigenous languages behind to follow.

Tihei mauri ora. Listen up - the life force of the language is alive.

broblack@xtra.co.nz
Tommy Kapai Wilson is a local writer and best selling author. He first started working for the Bay of Plenty Times as a paperboy in 1966 and has been a columnist for 15 years. Tommy is currently the executive director of Te Tuinga Whānau, a social service agency committed to the needs of our community.