An indigenous Alaskan man named after the Māori language revival movement as a baby is hoping to learn more about his special name when he visits Aotearoa this month.

Martin Veiser was dubbed Te Kōhanga Reo when he was three months old by a group of visiting Māori at the 1987 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Education in Vancouver which he attended with parents Vera, an Athabaskan Indian, and Josh.

At that point the family knew little of Māori culture, but that was all about to change.

In their hostel dormitory were 65 Māori people from all across Aotearoa, who welcomed them with open arms.


"We were told the dorm was full, but they said, 'Of course there's room, you're staying with us'," Josh Veiser said.

During the conference a Māori woman named Tania Fitzpatrick breastfed Martin, as she could not bring her baby to Vancouver but wanted to keep her milk going, and thus developed a strong bond.

He was looked after by the Māori elders and Fitzpatrick throughout the conference, and eventually his father Josh asked if they would give him a Māori name.

The group dubbed him Te Kōhanga Reo, after the Māori language movement aimed at preschool-age children that started in 1981, a theme the group brought to the convention.

As Martin had been breast fed with milk from a Māori woman, there was a deep connection, and he was considered Māori by the group, Veiser said.

"The entire Māori group took it really seriously, and debated the name for over an hour. Like a baptism, a naming ceremony took place. It was a powerful moment."

Athabaskan Indian Martin Veiser was dubbed Te Kōhanga Reo as a baby. Photo / Archive
Athabaskan Indian Martin Veiser was dubbed Te Kōhanga Reo as a baby. Photo / Archive

The name, Te Kōhanga Reo, came at a time when the Māori language was experiencing a revival in Aoteaora.

"In Alaska there have been similar issues with colonialism and repression of indigenous languages, so it was a very special name," Veiser said.


It had sparked a special interest in Māori culture for the family.

"We had never met such spontaneous, joyful and articulate people. There are many similarities with indigenous Alaskan culture, the connection to the land and wildlife, and attitudes about ways of living, as displayed through songs, dances and artwork."

In 1988 the young family travelled to Brisbane with the Eskimo Theatre Company, and decided to make a visit to their Māori friends in the North Island.

At Auckland Airport more than a hundred people turned out to greet them, performing powhiri and haka on their arrival.

While Martin cannot recall the two-week journey, his mother and father remembered it fondly.

"We were blown away by the reception at the airport, over hundred people came to greet us, or rather, Te Kōhanga Reo," Veiser said.

"We went all over the island in a chartered bus visiting different Māori. It was an incredible experience.

"Everywhere we went, many gifts were showered upon Te Kōhanga Reo. It was almost embarrassing.

"How could a child from a world away be given such a name and showered with so much love? We were so honoured."

The young family stayed at various marae and even met the Māori queen Te Atairangikaahu.

Te Kōhanga Reo even appeared on the front page of the Herald, on Saturday, October 8, 1988, held by his mother and Tania Fitzpatrick, while at Kokoinau Marae in Te Teko.

"A 16-month-old Eskimo boy grinned hugely yesterday and suddenly a group of Inuits from Alaska and their hosts on the Kokoinau Marae at Te Teko were one people," the story read.

It described the "bond" formed by the sharing of the breast milk, and the special attention paid to the young Alaskan boy.

Henrietta Maxwell, of Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, said at the time: "We have rules and strict protocol on our marae, but that young fellow has broken every one of them, and got away with it."

Te Kōhanga Reo is returning to New Zealand tomorrow with his fiance Mary, and they will be travelling around the South Island. They hope to make contact with anybody who may remember him.

"I am hoping to meet Māori people who gave me the name," Martin Veiser said.

"I have only heard the story from my parents, I don't really have a concept of how important the name is to the Māori people.

"I don't know much about the culture either, and I am always wanting to learn more about everything."

Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust spokeswoman Tere Harrison said they were aware of stories about Te Kōhanga Reo, and were reaching out into their networks to find kuia and kaumatua who may remember more about his story.