More than 160 languages are spoken in New Zealand. Most are observed annually during International Languages Week.
Across the nation's collective calendar, another nine weeks are reserved, respectively, for the regional languages of our Pacific Islands brethren. And then, among the festivities of cultural diversity, is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Māori Language Week. This year marks 45 years since its inception. But has it reached its use-by date?
Enter, stage left, Mahuru Māori. Now in its seventh year, the movement, which is not independent of any other reo movement, continues to challenge people to speak, write, and sing in te reo Māori every day of the month of September.
The initiative began as a personal social experiment for Paraone Gloyne, creator and Poutiaki at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. When we spoke on the phone I reluctantly asked if he would mind switching to English so that I could capture some quotes to publish alongside this opinion piece.
He bluntly denied my request. I was far from offended. I was impressed at his tenacity. We continued to converse and interview in te reo Māori. He then suggested if I wanted English responses, I could email him my questions and he would respond accordingly. I appreciated and respected him for his stance. It is this kind of strength, persistence and integrity that has seen the movement's popularity grow, indicative of a community ready for more.
"The time has come for us to build on Te Wiki o te Reo, and to extend out to a month. Mahuru Māori is about empowering ourselves to speak our language unapologetically. People reference the ZePA model, which talks about 'right-shifting' the critical mass; from zero, to passive, to active. Shifting is great, but we need to be more proactive."
Enter, stage right, Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission. The tread lightly approach of the commission seems to have paid off with its "Māori Language Moments" campaign currently tracking above average.
By midday, Day 1 of their busiest week of the year, online activity at www.reomaori.co.nz shattered the digital ceiling, earning more than 1 million registrations, with 200,000 of those registering by morning tea. Professor Rawinia Higgins, chairwoman and language revitalisation expert, was amazed at how taking "a moment" has resonated with the masses.
"The government's goal is to have 1 million speakers by 2040. This is a pulse test to see where we are at, where are people's attitudes and support for te reo. I am overwhelmed by the country's response."
Covid-19 forced the commission to think differently about the way it engaged with different communities. Where previous campaigns usually pulled crowds of 20,000-25,000 people to live events, the online platform not only surpassed expectations, it underscored their trajectory to normalising the language.
"Language revitalisation takes three generations. It is a long journey. We are also trying to support changing some of the systemic elements and making sure that policy thinks about te reo more broadly with our government agencies," says Higgins.
So, has Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori reached its use-by date? No. It is necessary. While the commission wholeheartedly supports Mahuru Māori, the idea of formalising a Māori Language Month in place of a week is not part of their immediate plan. They acknowledge, however, their common end game.
If people are able to see themselves using te reo Māori in their everyday lives, and can continue to do so without relying on the prompts of a Māori Language Week, Month or Year, then every language strategy ever devised will have collectively achieved the ultimate aspiration where every day is a Māori language day.
Karley Hemopo is a bilingual freelance journalist with 20 years of media and communications experience. Her whakapapa (genealogy) links her to Tainui, Aotea, Ngāti Whātua and Ngāti Hine.
Colour me in
Parewai Pahewa Johnson, a pupil at Te Kura Kaupapa ō Te Kōtuku, has drawn this illustration depicting te reo Māori at the heart of everything. Click here to open a larger format that can be downloaded.