Pāuraharanui Marae is where Te Maari Anahera Whare feels most connected to her whānau and ancestors.
“This is where I grew into a person. This is where I was loved by my elders who were all on the wall there,” she said, pointing to the wharenui.
“They all raised me. I used to run around on these grounds. I sat on the hills behind the Wharekai. I listened to all that was happening.
“I’m now in the throes of bringing other young ones in.”
Today, Te Maari Anahera Whare is to be made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori language.
Whare has spent more than 40 years dedicating her life to te reo Māori, including establishing Kōhanga Reo (te reo immersion programme for preschoolers) in Christchurch during the 1980s and Rotorua in the 1990s.
She worked with Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust for seven years, before becoming a regional manager for the Waiariki and Tūwharetoa Trust region from 1999 until retiring in 2023.
Whare taught children at Ngongotahā Kōhanga Reo in Rotorua and remained an active volunteer for kōhanga reo in her area and on Ngāti Pikiao marae.
Whare received a letter from the Governor-General and the Prime Minister about the award. She said the award was “such a surprise” to receive.
“Māori language specifically is my love.”
Whare said anyone can learn te reo. “I don’t expect all of us to be fluent, not at all”, she said, but to have an understanding of te reo was important.
She repeated a quote from a memory with one of her esteemed seniors: “Don’t fence the mind of the child”.
“Allow the child to grow... you’ve got to allow their children to know who they are, where they come from, from whom they derive before they go into the world.”
Growing up, where said she had to learn te reo at a later age. “My people never spoke to me in reo, even though they spoke it. When they spoke in Māori, that was kind of our cue to leave because they wanted to talk about serious issues and concerns.
“So there’s been a change. Our young ones are ready,” she said.
“Even though I’ve retired from my, from my work, I still am around. I believe in the people who set the foundations”.
In 2018, Whare worked with the Education Review Office (ERO) to review kōhanga reo and kura in New Zealand.
She is also kuia and council elder for Ngāti Pikiao, performing kai karanga for the marae and across the region, and helped her iwi during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whare was acknowledged by Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust at its 40-year anniversary for her contributions in 2022.
Whare said receiving the award was a privilege. “The award is like the cream on the cake for all those years of work that you’ve done.”
“I really deeply believe that children are our future and it’s their right to know who they are, where they come from, who they come from. All of that before they go out to be the prime minister of tomorrow.
“I’m proud for my people. I’m proud for my elders. I’m proud for the power. I’m proud.”