After a successful start to a corporate career Ngahi Bidois was challenged about his Maori identity and lack of te reo Maori.
He and his wife Carolyn decided to learn te reo together and after a year on an unemployment te reo training programme, Ngahi changed careers from corporate to education. Their te reo Maori journey concludes:
"Nga, when our kids are born, I think we should only speak Maori to them," Carolyn said one day. She had just returned from a day of lectures and a five-minute conversation with one of her lecturers, Taiarahia Black, who encouraged her that we could step up our te reo commitment.
Our naming of our first son Eruera Te Reo Bidois, "successful guardian of the Maori language", signified that. We only spoke Maori to Eruera.
Nearly three years later his sister Tumanako arrived and te reo Maori became our established whanau language.
Shortly after Tumanako's birth our te reo waka was taken into new waters and special years . Carolyn and I were shoulder tapped to establish the Maori studies programme at a Tauranga teachers' college before I did relatively short stints as a Maori academic adviser and a teacher at a kura kaupapa Maori in Tauranga which Eruera also attended.
Somewhere in there I also completed a Masters in Education degree and researched the effects of colonisation on the loss of te reo Maori in our Bidois whanau.
This all led to an interview that stands out as one of the highlights of our whanau te reo Maori journey. We took Eruera and Tumanako and the interview was mostly conducted in te reo Maori with the kids participating. The kaumatua and interviewers liked them. They also liked Carolyn, their Pakeha, Maori-speaking mother, and did not seem to mind when our kids ended the interview by telling them in Maori that after two hours it was time to go, because we had promised them tea at McDonald's if they behaved, and they were tino hiakai!
I got the job. Or should I say our whanau got the job which saw us all return home to Rotorua where I was privileged and pleased to become the head of Te Paakaro a Ihenga, the then school of Maori studies, journalism, fashion arts and design at Waiariki Institute of Technology.
Twenty years earlier I had left Rotorua with no tertiary qualification, no career, no wife or children and no te reo Maori to speak of. I was blessed and grateful to return home with all of the above.
Eruera and Tumanako had attended kohanga reo and upon returning home attended Te Koutu, He Kura Kaupapa Maori.
Under the leadership of Uenuku and Aroha Fairhall, with the support of outstanding teachers, their te reo Maori and tikanga grew exponentially, culminating in their becoming head boy and head girl . Along with many other kura kaupapa Maori akonga (pupils) of their generation they are fluent in Maori, English and Spanish. They are currently attending Auckland University, Eruera a third-year medical school student and Tumanako in pre-med school.
As an international leadership speaker I now share my story of identity worldwide with leaders who may have turned their backs on their indigenous identity, leadership, language or culture.
If we Maori are not interested in learning our own language and keep making excuses for not doing so then who are we to demand it of others. My te reo journey is far from over and I am looking forward to the next steps. Last week I attended the regional Manu Korero speech competitions where I judged the junior English. One of my bucket list items is for my te reo Maori to one day be good enough to judge the senior Maori. Without language, without influence and without land the essence of being Maori would no longer exist. Let us be strong and courageous in learning to speak Maori. Toi tu te kupu. Toi tu te mana, toi tu te whenua. Kia kaha kia maia, kia manawanui tatou ki te ako i te reo Maori.