Friday, July 31, 2009


Firstly nga mihi ki a koutou katoa mo te wiki o te reo Maori. I hope you all had a most fantastic week speaking Maori here, there and everywhere. Ka pai, ka mau te wehi, tumeke! Fantastic…

Each year’s there’s a theme so for 2009 it’s Te Reo i te Hapori - Maori Language in the Community. According to Te Taura Whiri I te Reo Maori the Maori Language Commission, the theme invites us “To help te reo to live and grow in our communities.” It sounds kind of desperate like they’re pleading us to let a struggling plant have its chance to stand in the sun and rain. Or worse they’re imploring us civilised human beings show compassion towards an alien species on the brink of extinction.

Well the Language Commission is right. Te reo Maori may as well be an alien species because it is in danger of extinction along with every other world wide indigenous language.

According to the UNESSCO approximately 600 languages have disappeared in the last century and they continue to disappear at a rate of one language every two weeks. Up to 90 percent of the world’s languages are likely to disappear before the end of this century if current trends are allowed to continue.

So why are the languages dying? Each case will differ according to their region and the environment in which it’s found. Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, it could be attributed to the low prioritising of the language by the Ministry of Education at the Primary and Secondary School levels. Or the enemy could be nothing more than complacency says Maori Language Commissioner Erima Henare. We have Kohanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa, Wharekura and Tertiary Institutions have a myriad of courses to do with both te reo and culture. There’s also Maori Television and on Sky 59 the 100% Te Reo Channel.

So what more do Maori want? The answer to that is: it’s the country that needs a lot more. Only 4% of us speak Maori to a fluent level, 130,485 are Maori and about 30,042 non-Maori. I’m really impressed with the latter figure it’s more than what I thought. But for all those who say te reo can’t get us export business in Asia or the Middle east or Europe – you’re wrong it can.

Language is all about identity, connection and expectation. We are defined by who we are by blood and history and regardless of what you think this contributes to our present shape. How we perceive ourselves is how we relate to others. International business may be ruthless but it also relies on contextual empathy and understanding of the people and environment. Being bi-lingual or multi-lingual especially if one of those languages is of your homeland affords you an insight into other peoples lives.

I hope that one day we will never have Maori Language Week. I hope that one day te reo Maori is spoken by all and sundry on the streets, at work, in bars, clubs and definitely in the home by all New Zealanders.

Te reo Maori mo koutou, mo ratou, mo tatou.
Maori language; for you, for them, for us all.

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