Ko tōku reo te ia o Te Awa Tupua
Our people, our stories, our way!
Celebrating Māori language is an everyday whānau affair here at Awa FM in Whanganui.
Music, news, guests telling our stories have a te reo o Whanganui focus 24/7.
So, one week for te reo Māori in 2021 for the whole country seems outmoded, quaint even.
It's hard to understand that not all of Aōtearoa gets that, through Māori language, we have our own time-changing, other-universe immersive experience.
Te reo Māori is a portal to our world. A VIP entree into our way of thinking, living and being that is hundreds of years old. You can access any one of 21 iwi radio stations via mobile app Whare Kōrero, watch two national Māori television channels 24/7. "No pills" required, just a listening heart and a great Māori dictionary. Then, like the movie Matrix, once you go there, there is no turning back.
Awa FM turning 30 years old, as a predominately Māori language broadcaster in a no-big-city-frills region with Māori making up just over 24 per cent of the total population, is considered by many an absolute miracle.
Our longevity as iwi radio, however, is no immaculate conception. We are one tiny part of the successful navigation of hundreds of years of Māori culture, language and people in our rohe.
In 1987, te reo Māori became an official language of Aōtearoa and Te Upoko o te Ika became the first Māori radio station in the world.
In 1990, when the Whanganui River Māori Trust Board were called on to support the start-up of a tribal radio station, there were very few Māori broadcasters.
Undeterred, they secured a government training scheme and Joe Reo, our first station manager who came from commercial radio, and Rangitihi Rangiwaiata John Tahuparae, who was working as a Te Karere reporter at Television NZ, were to train recruits and run the station. Well-known te reo o Whanganui kaumatua with Koro Pat Haami supported it and on June 17, 1991, after a dawn karakia opening led by our kuia, our first broadcast aired.
Awa FM moved from the start-up years through the beloved "Kia ora-cations" times to earn our place as a part of the fabric of tribal life.
Despite limited access to media resources, Awa FM keeps operating thanks to the vision of our kaumatua and hundreds of volunteer hours. We exist because te reo Whanganui is our portal to our culture.
As iwi and media, Awa FM must find ways to navigate these changing times.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic gave an opportunity to work as a large group, Te Ranga Tupua collective. Comprising Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu iwi and affiliated organisations, we were part of the successful mobilisation of resources.
Maintaining our relationships long after life returned to "no alert levels" in turn strengthened our 2021 lockdown approach.
Technology like the Whare Kōrero mobile app, developed by Te Hiku Media for all iwi radio stations and launched in 2020, is another example of iwi radio resilience.
The future of Awa FM in these data-sovereignty-driven times like our language and culture is unknown. But as one of our original pioneering Awa FM broadcasters, Rangitihi Rangiwaiata John Tahuparae, noted: "As the river flows from the mountain to the sea, I am the river and the river is me.
"Mai te kahui maunga ki Tangaroa, ko au ko te awa, ko te awa ko au!"
• Whetu Fala is AWAFM station manager in Whanganui