Hoake tātou! Everybody, get on the waka

Me he manawa tītī!

and…….Oh kuuuummmmon.

Today, or yesterday, or every day, John Key said this:

“Obviously like any language, (Māori) is a series of words, and of course if you can understand those words, then I can understand what they’re saying”

Choice, John Key. Choice. That didn’t really make sense grammatically though did it (they or I?), but hey, talking good is not eveyone’s strength.

Sorry everyone, for kicking off a post with a quote from him-most-truly. I am going to move on reeeeaally quick, I promise.

John – love the honesty! “what they’re saying”, keep up the othering why don’t ya.”Series of words” – yeah nothing much to it really. “Any language” – nice and dismissive, with a pinch of a diminishing smirk. Te Reo Māori is just like any other language. Piece of cake. Others, them, those, not me. Not my issue. cause’ “I’m John Key, and I can understand things”, “I know words”.

Ok, like I said, moving on.

When I read or hear quotes like this, I feel really defensive. I feel offended. I feel protective. I feel disappointed and angry. BUT Ko tēnei te wiki o Te Reo Māori!!!!, so I ain’t going to let anyone, especially not John Key get me down. Here is why.

I’ve started this important week of the year, like any other Monday, at my mahi. Where  I support several early childhood centres: their educators and tamariki, in learning Te Reo, in actually walking the talk with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and just generally being amazing citizens and not racist people. They are so great. I love them. They are dedicated and hard-working. They see the importance of and value in Te Ao Māori. They are doing what we should all be doing. Having a kōrero, and seeing how amazing it is. No more excuses, enough of the blame game or defensiveness. Te Reo is choice.

I also attended a wānanga all weekend long at my big kid’s kura. Parents and teachers dedicated their weekend for their tamariki. For their kura. And it is our kura. It is a marae away from marae. It was all about their learning, and of course about their reo, the reo of the kura and wider community. People got up, one after the other, and poured their hearts out. Sharing what being Māori means to them, what Te Reo is for them, and what they have to contribute to the kura going forward. Laying down all lengths they will go to. And there are many.

It was a beautiful time. Something I will always remember. We laughed and cried, together. In Te Reo.

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These wānanga are things that many kura and kōhanga do, a lot. A time where teachers and parents get together and really communicate. Where tamariki are truly at the centre of the conversation. This is the kind of thing that mainstream schools can only dream of, because of the way they are structured. Now, this post is not about education per se, but there is a lot to be learned from Māori ways of knowing and living, that everyone can learn from. I’m not saying lets all operate like a kura.

But I’m also not saying “like any language, is a series of words” either.

As I said earlier, I feel defensive when I hear people, particularly those in positions of massive influence and power, shrug off Te Reo. When they don’t pay it the due attention and respect it demands.

Actually, I’m sorry, I do need to go back to John Key now. But the following is for anyone – not just him, and it is said out of my love of Te Reo, my love for my partner and our children, my love for things Māori, and especially for my kid’s teachers – for our whānau and whānau whānui.

Every day I am in contact with the sharpest of tacks. The most willing of people. These people, myself included, are hell-bent on using Te Reo whenever we can, wherever we can. And it is not always easy. But we know its beauty and power. We love the way it sounds. The things that can be expressed in it, the knowledge that can only travel in it. Keeping a language going can be really hard mahi:

  • We arrange expense babysitting, or twist an aunty’s arm so we can attend night classes in Te Reo after a long day at work.
  • We attend weekly playground session in Te Reo, so the door is opened for our little ones.
  • We organise BBQs and kids play dates around learning Te Reo. Creating places in our lives where we can kōrero. This is easier said than done, believe me.
  • We painstakingly type, print off, cut out and stick labels on every object in our whare. In Te Reo. Because if you are learning Māori as an adult, it is hard. You need all the support you can get!
  • We learn lullabies for our little ones in Te Reo.
  • We compose waiata in Te Reo Rangatira.
  • We petition our schools to do more in honouring the treaty.
  • We seek to understand the treaty.
  • We go to workshops and upskill.
  • We are Māori. We are Pāhekā (only .3% though according to latest stats), we are Japanese and Spanish.
  • We are women and LGBTI. We are men and children. Young and old.
  • We do it in spite of. We do it as well as.

We kōrero, kōrero, kōrero. And:

I can understand what they are saying.

I really can, John. Well, I try really hard to – as a Pāhekā Nu Zulunda. And I  don’t actually think you can. Understanding enough to get through a pōwhiri, or to mince another mihi at the start of a meeting does not amount to “understanding what they’re saying”.

Because, what we are saying is:

Te Reo Māori is a taonga. It is absolutely fundamental to being Māori, to this land, to history and to the future of Te Ao Māori. Arguably, there is no Ao without it. And it is in dire straights right now. You can do something about this. Me tīmata i te wiki nei!

– Fund kōhanga and kura equitably with mainstream.

– Insist, and legislate, that ALL teachers must learn Te Reo and make learning it compulsory in all schools while you are at it. Kids love it, and it is EASY for them! It opens a whole new world for them. There is nothing to be lost. Only gains to be made. Start with the tamariki. This will save the government a lot of money.

– Understand that bilingualism and multilingualism are GOOD FOR THE BLIMMIN BRAIN. And even the economy.

– And, that people can only really understand each other when they understand each others languages. There is no way that you can say that you “understand what they’re saying”. You do not. Your politics say it all.

– And finally, leave it up to them. Relinquish control. Or at least, stop suppressing the power and control that Māori already have over their lives. It is there, let it shine and prosper.

And ending on a positive note, here is an amazing blog post on super sneaky and effective ways to get your kids speaking Māori along side you. This is the future, this is the solution.

’10 ways to trick your kid into speaking Māori again’

Mauri ora!

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2 thoughts on “Hoake tātou! Everybody, get on the waka

    1. Just as possible as learning any other language. The difference is having to really seek out Te Reo opportunities for yourself. There are vastly relatively few places you can immerse yourself, compared to going to France to learn French say! Karawhiua – give it a go!

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