It's no secret that the Maori language is in a vulnerable state. And according to research by Kahurangi Maxwell, so are parents who wish to bring their children up speaking Maori in NewZealand.
"Significant are the pervasive and negative attitudes towards a reo Maori lifestyle that are founded in a belief that English must remain predominant and might be threatened," Kahurangi said.
That type of attitude is exactly what prompted Kahurangi, 28, to write her thesis with Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, which earned her first class honors and the 'School of Indigenous Studies Top Scholar Award.'
"It began with the primary issue of how do parents successfully raise children in te reo Maori as a first language in Aotearoa, and how can they normalise this practice?"
"Current research tells us that we should speak te reo Maori to our children; it also tells us that we need to in order for the language to survive. However, what happens when you have chosen that pathway?"
Kahurangi, along with her partner Chey Milne and 4 year old daughter Atareta invited four other Maori speaking whanau to take part in the year-long research as case studies.
The two primary purposes were to investigate how parents successfully raise children in te reo Maori as their first language in Aotearoa society and, to critically examine the situation faced by Maori-speaking parents who have chosen to raise their child(ren) in te reo Maori and their aspiration to normalise te reo Maori for their tamariki.
"As Maori-speaking parents we decided that it was our child's birth right to be raised in her native tongue and this decision was made without hesitation."
"However, in our journey we have come across much criticism and negativity towards this stand, and the question is why? Why in New Zealand have we been made to feel as though we have made the wrong decision?"
Kahurangi got a first-hand taste of that negative attitude when an article featured in the New Zealand Herald during Maori Language week in 2013. It was titled, "Parents take on challenge of speaking nothing but Te Reo to their daughter."
"The backlash we encountered, from readers' comments' about what was intended to be a positive story, astounded us. There were over 400 comments posted on the NZ Herald Facebook page about our article, many very racist and hurtful comments."
"The issues this negativity exposed were a major catalyst to the initiation and focus of this research as they provided evidence of the wider society's attitudes towards te reo Maori."
There were three key findings.
"First, the motivation to raise tamariki with te reo Maori is significantly influenced by parents own background and journey with the language. The decision itself is made naturally for some and through a process of discussion and debate for others."
"Second, there is far greater support required both nationally, as well as within whanau to ensure the journey is successful.
A structured approach to supporting and resourcing whanau must be implemented. Lastly, the research discovered challenges and barriers which all participants encountered."
"We need to do much, much, more to ensure we can one day say te reo Maori is safe" - Kahurangi Maxwell