The Hits radio star Stacey Morrison talks about the resurgence of interest in te reo Māori and her husband Scotty's bromance with Guyon Espiner.
1 Next week is Māori Language Week. What are the challenges of bringing up your children as te reo speakers?
Every once in a while I remind myself of how amazing it is that we're actually doing it. Scotty and I didn't grow up with any Māori language; we both learned as adults. We made this romantic, idealistic call to bring our children up with te reo but even for us it's hard. When I was carrying our first child, now 11, I was at the intermediate stage, which is when a lot of people give up because you plateau. You have to be sure about your aspirations. We want our kids to be global citizens who are bilingual and strong in their own culture, which breeds respect for other cultures.
2 You and your husband Scotty were recently named as one of Spy's Kiwi power couples of 2018. How did you meet?
We worked in the same building when I was at Mai FM and he was at Ruia Mai. The first time I saw him performing with Moana Maniapoto — a good looking Māori boy with his top off — I thought, "Well he'll be up himself." We were just friends for years. When he asked me on a date I said, "There is one stipulation; you have to stop calling me cuz."
3 You were a Mai FM host in the 90s. What was that station's role in normalising te reo?
Mai FM was built on an iwi frequency. Coming into commercial radio, we were seen as a rogue station that failed to stay in its lane. It was a real slog getting advertisers to invest. We were also criticised for being too American. That was a phase of maturity — because we didn't see ourselves on screen we gravitated to people who were a bit like us.
4 Why is representation on screen important?
Growing up in Christchurch, I didn't see media portraying Māori women as beautiful. I permed my hair to look like Rachel Hunter. I distinctly remember seeing a Polynesian model, Sarah Leo, for the first time. That's what made me emotional about the movie Moana; for my girls to see a Disney figure that's powerful and Polynesian. It's exciting having people like Taika Waititi in Hollywood making space for more of us to tell our stories. His humour in Thor was so Māori. His rock character, Korg, even walks like one of the bros.
5 Scotty has just released his latest book; Māori made Easy II this week. How do you account for the popularity of his previous titles?
The accessibility. He did the phrase book first; that sold 30,000 copies. Then Māori Made Easy — a 30-minute a day learning programme over 30 weeks. It's really practical and teaches the 20 per cent of language you'll use 80 per cent of the time. We wrote Māori at Home together.
6 Are you noticing a resurgence in interest in learning te reo Māori?
Definitely. Scotty and I work for Massey Uni and because he's at Te Karere, TVNZ agreed to offer te reo classes. We had 30 places and got 400 replies. Tertiary institutions are struggling to meet demand. I'm grateful to be part of the resurgence but also mindful of the people who did the hard work to ensure that te reo exists. The activists who took the petition to Parliament in 1972 didn't achieve fluency for themselves but their mokopuna have.
7 What can Pākehā gain from learning Māori?
If you've ever got goosebumps watching the haka it's a sign that Māori language is part of the fabric of your world. Pākehā speakers like Jennifer Ward-Lealand have told me that learning Māori has helped them feel stronger about who they are as a Pākehā. We are all united by the fact that we all descend from voyagers and we share that adventurer spirit.
8 Fear of getting things wrong can be a barrier to learning language. Do Māori struggle with this as much as Pākehā?
Totally. It's really hard for Māori because you feel the language should be part of you but it doesn't come easily. I avoided my Māori teacher at my school because I was so embarrassed. That's what we call language trauma. Your face says you're Māori but you have no way to express that. We have a saying: "Tōku reo, tōku ohooho" or "My language, my awakening." I've seen te reo be transformative in people like my husband, who used to be a little shit. With Māori he's found his life purpose. I'm also grateful for how it's helped him engage with his spiritual side.
9 Do you think Māori should be compulsory in primary schools?
People don't respond well to compulsion. Building goodwill will help. We don't have enough teachers to roll it out nationwide yet anyway. What we need is a real strategy to meet the current demand and to ensure there's enjoyment of the soft skills around language learning. Once you have a second language, learning a third and a fourth is much easier because you've fired up the neural pathways in your brain.
10 You've just launched Toro Mai, a free online course in Māori with Massey University. Why teach online as well as in print?
Everyone learns in different ways so it's important to cater to all kinds of learners. Some people need to hear things or see them written down, songs work for some, actions for others. We hoped 350 people would sign up to Toro Mai but we've got 5000 worldwide. I will say that immersion is the most expedient way to learn. You can create immersion moments at home. When our friends come round we'll have "kai and kōrero" and speak in Māori for as long as people can handle. My husband and Guyon Espiner have a little bromance going on. It's very cute and a nice way for men to interact.
11 You're talking to Guyon at the Going West Writer's Festival next Sunday (Sept 16). Are you becoming a regular on the literary circuit?
I loved hosting this year's Ockham NZ Book Awards; I fangirl over writers like Dame Anne Salmond. I just love the fact books still exist; their smell; the ceremony of reading a book. I have a stack next to my bed that I dip into; mostly non-fiction. The best book I've read recently was Dr Anna Martin's book on parenting. Parenting is the job I most want to do well.
12 You have a full-time job co-hosting The Hits' afternoon radio show. How do maintain work-life balance?
It can be hit and miss. I had a day this week where I just went, "Oh wow, I stuffed that up." I have a good guilt button too. With age I've learned that as an extrovert, I get energy from other people. So I do think I'm a better mum by working but that's just me. One thing I find is you hold a lot of life admin in your brain. Even though my kids are with my sister while I'm on air, I still need to know that everybody's where they need to be. My producer was going to ban phones in the studio but I said I'd feel so anxious it wouldn't be worth it. The great thing about doing the Drive show is I know what it's like to be driving the kids round after school. I'm there with them.