TThis year I am studying a full immersion course in Maori te reo at the renowned Te Wānanga or Takiura. Like many other Maori, I have spent my adulthood using my own time, money, energy, and resources in an attempt to learn the language of my ancestors. A language that was stolen from me whānau because Te Tiriti de Waitangi was not honored. So here I am, completely desperate, trying to regain and hopefully master the Maori tea.
At a glance, it seems that New Zealanders are interested in learning criminal. The number of teenagers studying Maori tea in high school has exceeded 30,000 for the first time. Māori Made Easy, a language study book by Scotty Morrison, has become a staple in every home. There are waiting lists across the country to enter classes part-time. If this is the case, why is the Labor government not committed to making Maori tea mandatory in schools?
One of the biggest arguments is the lack of public support. I am confused by this. When we say public, who exactly are we talking about? Please show me a Maori whānau who does not want his son to speak his own language. The systems in place seem bent on preventing our children (children) to have access to their own language. Kura kaupapa Maori language immersion schools lack sufficient funds and resources and are not accessible to all Whānau. The argument that students could be “forced to learn” also puts Pākehā at the center and completely rules out what is best for Maori. I went through general education, but it came at a cost. I started to speak Pākehā fluently, but I lost my identity as a Maori in the process. All Maori children deserve access to the tea without the existing barriers.
The lack of Maori teachers is another excuse. To that I say, pay the Maori teachers what they are worth. Fund them through college and treat the ability to speak Maori as a gift, a talent, and a valuable skill. Because it is. Maori teachers are often expected to be Kapa Haka’s tutor, Tikanga advisor, Maori staff advisor, Maori community intermediary, and a classroom teacher, yet they are paid the same as their teachers. counterparts of Pākehā. I have seen my own whānau and friends work tirelessly in these roles only to burn out and leave.
It is good to see that our largest television media network here in Aotearoa normalizes the use of Maori te reo. On the 6pm news, Te Reo now extends beyond the usual “kia pray, good night.” But shouldn’t this be the minimum for our publicly funded station?
A brief look at our racist history will tell you in part why it has taken so long. In 1984, Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish was almost fired by saying kia prays at work in the call center. In 2004, a Whangārei teenage girl quit her job after getting into trouble for greeting customers at her job, a frozen yogurt shop, with the words “kia ora.” There has been continued resistance from Pākehā New Zealand over the use of te reo. You just need to look at the comments on social media today to see that.
But it’s not just racism from the outside. Journalist Aaron Smale has also rightly pointed out that spreading Maori terminology on a surface is often an attempt to cover up the colonial and racist system that exists within an institution. For example, this is what Oranga Tamariki has done. Changing your name from the Children’s Ministry and giving it a Maori name does not cancel, hide, or eliminate the destructive damage that the organization has caused whānau Māori.
Similarly, the media cannot think that all they need to do is add you reo. New Zealand’s mainstream media has never truly honored Te Tiriti. In 2020, Stuff admitted this and apologized to Maori, acknowledging that previous media coverage of Stuff had contributed to racism towards Maori. An acknowledgment is a good start.
Just last week, John Banks was taken off the air at a radio station after a caller said the Maori were there, “genetically predisposed to crime, alcohol and low educational performance ”. Banks doubled over and agreed saying, “These people will come in through your bathroom window.”
Greetings in reo are just the beginning. We need more Maori in leadership positions, we need the support and support of Maori journalists, we need all reporters, editors and those working in the media industry to study, understand and honor Te Tiriti. So every time I see a media outlet or any institution make a change, I ask myself, is this progression or just performative?
Because we need more than a pinch of bad tea. We need real progressive change.
Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a writer, reporter and author of her first novel The Pōrangi Boy. This year he is studying Maori Te Reo full time.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism