Rotorua's Tangiwai Doctor has been teaching te reo for 20 years but it is not a language she grew up speaking.

Doctor, who teaches at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology's Rotorua and Tauranga campuses, said her mother was fluent in te reo but did not speak it at home.

"I started learning in 1995, not long after my mum started to follow her reo and get her mana back," Doctor said.

She said her mum was a fluent speaker from Ngāti Porou but only spoke te reo when her parents visited.


"She found the Te Ataarangi movement and got on board with helping teach te reo Māori with all the fluent speakers around New Zealand."

Doctor's te reo journey has been a long one but it is a journey she knew she had to take.

"In 1995, I started by doing night classes here in Rotorua for about five years. I was feeling stagnant in my work so I decided to pursue te reo Māori.

"I moved to Porirua to do te reo with my brother, who was teaching there. I had the basics but I wanted to do it fulltime. I came back to Rotorua, still felt that wasn't enough, and did He Kainga Mo Te Reo, a full immersion kura here.

"I did that for about two years and straight from that started teaching."

Doctor said her brother Haimona Winterburn, who she learned te reo with in Porirua, was an inspiration to the rest of her whānau.

"We realised it was our time to step up and take on the journey of te reo Māori. My brother went to Te Ataarangi and learned how to speak te reo and to teach te reo - he had such a vibrant passion for it that he was unstoppable.

"He was a quadriplegic, could hardly move his hands or anything, but he managed to be able to deliver the actual teaching of te reo with such passion that no one saw that disability. They just saw his passion."

Rotorua's Tangiwai Doctor has been teaching te reo for 20 years. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rotorua's Tangiwai Doctor has been teaching te reo for 20 years. Photo / Andrew Warner

When it comes to te reo, much has changed since she was growing up.

"When I was a child we never heard it, never at the school, there was no Māori language, just a little bit of history. We didn't hear any of it until we left home and started following Mum's journey. We had to seek it ourselves.

"I'd like to see a lot more but it is very different now, it will come. The ultimate goal is that all our tamariki can not be afraid of speaking te reo - it is becoming stronger."

Doctor said te reo was crucial to Māori maintaining their identity.

"It's our heritage, we never stop learning who we are and we need to be able to share that with our tamariki, our mokopuna, so that they are strong and they know their roots.

"It's about the culture too, that's the idea of having a noho marae or wananga as part of the course. The students get used to pōwhiri, the culture, what's involved with going on to a marae safely so they feel comfortable. We want to share that experience."