Anniversary motivates to do more for Te Reo Maori

1. Maori Television Awards held on 9 December 2022 in Auckland

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the Maori Language Petition, a plea for the active recognition and teaching of Te Reo Maori in schools; the 40th anniversary of the first Kohanga reo (kindergarten where lessons are taught in Maori); and the 35th anniversary of Maori becoming an official language.

The Ngā Kākā Kura o Te Reo awards reflected these milestones.

The Television Event

Ngā Kākā Kura o Te Reo is an annual Whakata Maori (Maori Television) televised event honouring persons who initiate and lead significant Maori language movements.

This year’s event, held on Friday, December 9th at the Cordis Hotel, Auckland was significant since it honoured the pioneers for their revival efforts.

It honoured the efforts of those groups that were instrumental in restoring Te Reo into the mainstream. Ngā Tamatoa, the first kōhanga reo, and Te Reo Irirangi o Te Upoko o te Ika, the first iwi radio station, were among those honoured.

Maori Activist Tāme Wairere Iti (Wikipedia)
Maori Activist Tāme Wairere Iti (photo: Wikipedia)

“I am pleased with how things have changed. We were chucked into a corner, but I am pleased with how things have turned out,” Tāme Iti told Indian Newslink.

Tāme Iti is a well-known Maori activist, and his documents, explaining the struggles over colonialism, ‘land theft’ and persecution have earned him both fans and critics.

The decline of Te Reo Maori

The colonial administration emphasised the use of English. The Native Schools Act of 1867 established a schooling system aimed to integrate Maori into Pākehā culture. The Act mandated that English be the only language written or spoken. Maori children were systematically prevented from learning their language under the Act, and punishments for children who spoke Te Reo Maori at these schools were prevalent.

People began to discourage the use of Te Reo Maori after decades of punitive measures.

Urban migration, societal pressure, physical and verbal punishment of children, and pepper potting’ programmes (in which individual Maori families were dispersed around Pakeha areas to encourage assimilation) all contributed to the language’s intergenerational suppression. By 1953, the number of Maori children who could speak Te Reo Maori had plummeted to 26%, a 64% loss over 40 years.

Petition to the Government

On September 14, 1972, members of Ngā Tamatoa, Victoria University’s Te Reo Maori Society, and the New Zealand Maori Students Association delivered a petition with over 30,000 signatures calling for the recognition and revitalisation of Te Reo Maori. Ngā Tamatoa (The Warriors) acted to promote Maori rights, resist racial discrimination, and address injustices committed by the New Zealand government, notably Treaty of Waitangi violations.

Te Petihana Reo Maori, or the Maori Language Petition, directly resulted in the government instituting optional Te Reo classes in primary and secondary schools, as well as the establishment of a one-year course to train fluent Te Reo Maori speakers, in teaching, to make up for the shortage of qualified teachers.

Threat to the Language

Kara Puketapu became the head of Maori Affairs in 1977 and developed the Tū Tangata concept (Stand Tall) which brought about the Te Kōhanga Reo in 1982. The kōhanga reo movement is a project that focuses on immersion in the Maori language and values to pass them on to future generations. It emphasises cultural revitalisation through Te Reo Maori and depends on the active involvement of the whole whānau (family and community).

In 1985, efforts to ensure the survival of the Maori language were stepped up. The Waitangi Tribunal heard the claim that Te Reo was a taonga (treasure) and that the Crown (government) was obligated to safeguard it under the Treaty of Waitangi. The Waitangi Tribunal recommended a number of legislative and policy changes which included the establishment of The Maori Language Act of 1987 establishing it as an official language of New Zealand.

Kia Ora

In 1984 national telephone tolls operator Naida Glavish (of Ngāti Whātua) began greeting callers with ‘Kia ora’ and was demoted for doing so. The issue sparked extensive public debate with people opposing to hear the phrase Kia Ora but many others supporting the Maori greeting. People contacted the toll booth to talk with ‘The Kia Ora Lady,’ and airline pilots began to use the phrase to greet passengers.

Glavish returned to her previous employment after Prime Minister Robert Muldoon intervened. She was eventually promoted to the international toll exchange, where she greeted both New Zealand and abroad callers with ‘Kia ora.’

Today Kia Ora is used at both macro corporate levels to the micro email levels as a greeting.

There are presently several institutions striving to revive Te Reo, the majority of which were established in the 1980s. Nonetheless, the Maori language’s erosion has just recently been halted and Te Reo is experiencing a revival. However, experts say that in order to survive as a language, Maori need a critical mass of proficient speakers of all ages.

Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Auckland.

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