The ultimate goal of a fully bilingual Wairoa by 2040 might be 20 years away, but Mayor Craig Little is determined to be part of it as a fluent speaker of the language.

Aged 57, with "kids" who learnt Maori at school, he and wife Jan are both, along with deputy mayor Denise Eaglesome-Karekare, attend two-hour learner maori classes by the rakau method at Te Ataarangi each week in Wairoa, and Little says: "I think everyone should do it."

It's now more than two years since his council became the first in Hawke's Bay to adopt a Maori language policy, and possibly only the third in New Zealand.

He says the whole council supports it, with a particular example of one who took it firmly in grasp being Cr Charlie Lambert, who went into immersion phase to learn more after his return to the district after serving in the Army.


Today, at the end of Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, the Hastings District Council joined the flow by announcing the launching of its policy, Heretaunga Ararau, with similar aspirations, to become a te reo Maori centred city also by 2040.

It recognises the importance and significance of te reo maori, and provides a framework to support and revitalise the language through council actions, within the organisation and across its community.

Within Ngāti Kahungunu rohe (the area from Wairoa to Wairarapa), 26 per cent of the population is Māori, and the policy reflects the council's desire to become accustomed to te reo Māori, local Māori aspirations, and to form strong relationships and be consistent in its cultural responsiveness.

Hastings-based Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi chair Ngāhiwi Tomoana and Te Reo Māori director Jeremy MacLeod say it's a "great start" and will go a long way to help the implementation of the iwi's own language strategy, Kahungunu, kia eke"!

The policy has been guided by the Māori Language Commission's planning goals, with a vision to embed te reo Māori responsiveness across all the council's areas of business.

A council media release said goals for the district include celebrating its unique Māori heritage, supporting local rangatahi to learn and perform haka and waiata at special occasions, celebrating te reo māori champions, and using te reo māori across council facilities, receptions, housing, events, arts and public spaces.

Within the council the aim is to normalise te reo māori across council activities, publications, and its dealings with the public. Council officers will be encouraged to participate in te reo māori learning programmes.

Chief executive Nigel Bickle said that as māori is an official language of New Zealand the council had a role to play in recognising, participating, promoting and enjoying the language.


"I am proud to see the way our council is embracing the Māori language – through words, prayer, songs and art.

"My hope is that by giving life to Heretaunga Ararau our journey will see a destination where we celebrate Māori language every day."

Craig Little says learning at his age is "hard work", and the comparison of the brain with a computer starting to run out of gigabytes is not lost, but he and his wife, realising they are at a very early stage, are determined to keep at it.

He now struggles to think how New Zealand ever became anything other than multi-lingual, especially with a new confidence he developed by simply learning to introduce himself with his own pepeha detailing his background.

It gave him a new appreciation of whai korero on the marae, where people would speak at length "off the cuff" in Maori, when he, even as the district council head, would struggle with any speech off the cuff in English.

"The sooner everyone does it the better," he said.