The future of te reo begins today: with all of us.
Professor Rawinia Higgins, Chair of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori
Last year COVID-19 changed everything. Instead of meeting up on the streets: we met up online and ended up making history with our Māori Language Moment which saw more than 1 million of us celebrating te reo at the same time. We are focused on growing 1 million speakers of te reo by 2040: this is what we need to revitalise the language. We know it takes one generation to lose a language and three generations to get it back.
It is interesting to look at what Māori language champions in the 1980s hoped would be in place by now. One hope was for that all government heads would speak te reo by 2000. This is not the case, I am guessing but suspect that few of our CEOs and Deputy CEOs are Māori speakers. One exception is Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Secretary of Health, who has been learning te reo for some time. The good news is that more and more agencies are implementing Māori language plans that will help establish baselines, targets and learning tools. This is something our organisation helps with. Leadership like this helps to encourage organisations to embrace te reo Māori as our first language as part of our norm.
Learning a language is about starting out small and making that first step: no one will be an expert in a day or even a week. We recently interviewed former Te Puni Kōkiri head Sir Wira Gardiner about his journey to fluency that began when he was a chief executive himself. He told us there is no escaping embarrassment so all there is left is to try: “Don’t be ashamed. We have to get into a mindset where mistakes will be made, and mistakes are a stepping stone to learning and becoming adept and proficient at the language. And for those who know te reo Māori my advice is to be gentle and be kind.”
That’s why this month our team have a new challenge for New Zealanders: learn how to introduce yourself in te reo Māori by saying your name, where your ancestors come from (if you want to or can!) and where you live.
Whether in a Zui (Zoom hui in te reo) or introducing yourself at a face to face meeting: being able to introduce yourself in te reo is a helpful tool. Check it out. We have some familiar faces, who have recorded their mihimihi for us. Give it a go e hoa mā!
Last month I was honoured to be elected onto the Global Taskforce for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032, a UNESCO initiative. Set up in the wake of WWII, UNESCO exists to help build peace in the minds of all people. We know that when it comes to building peace in New Zealand, some of those building blocks have been made out of te reo Māori.
More New Zealanders are embracing our language than ever before. During Māori Language Week 2020 1.1 million joined us in the biggest Māori language event in history. Te reo is becoming normalised across our country whether it’s on our streets or our screens. These are small ways we can measure how we are going when it comes to peacefulness and reconciliation. Last December we commissioned Colmar Brunton to tell us how New Zealanders see te reo and more than 8 in 10 of us see it as part of our identity as a New Zealander: people see te reo as something that brings us together.
New Zealand’s Māori language journey over the past half century has been epic and we are excited at what lies ahead. Our people’s support for the first language of our nation is something that unites us and makes us New Zealanders unique as envisioned by Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Kia kaha te reo Māori!