2 Nov 2020

Community want Gagana Tokelau in New Zealand school curriculum

7:44 am on 2 November 2020

The Tokelau community want Gagana Tokelau to be included in school curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand.

"With every Census that comes, the number of speakers are declining, so there has to be an active movement to keep the language alive," explains Tufaina Faraimo the associate principal at Glenview primary school.

Ensuring the survival of their language for future generations is why the Tokelaun community in Porirua are keen to have it included in the school curriculum.

Tokelaun celebrating their culture

Tokelaun celebrating their culture Photo: RNZ Pacific

Tokelau is a New Zealand Pacific realm nation, as is Niue and the Cook Islands, but the language is the only one of the three not part of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement or NCEA.

The Tokelaun community is using Te Vaiaho o Gagana Tokelau language Week to reinforce why their language, history and culture should be an NCEA subject.

Some from the community gathered at Porirua college on Thursday to celebrate their culture.

Celebrating Tokelaun fatele (dance) at Porirua college

Celebrating Tokelaun fatele (dance) at Porirua college Photo: RNZ Pacific

Tufaina Faraimo, who is also a committee member of the Atafu Tokelau community group, incorporated society, strongly believes that the the Tokelau should be an NCEA subject.

She said Porirua is the best place to launch and teach it.

"We've got over 48 percent of the Tokelaun community in New Zealand, which I think amounts to about 3-4 thousand.

"So here, in Porirua, is the best place to launch something like this or to teach it. We've got the most young people of Tokelau descent that attend Porirua college, so it is important that we try and give them access for NCEA credits through their own language and culture," she said.

Tufaina Faraimo, associate principal of Glenview school, and a committee member of the Atafu Tokelau community group

Tufaina Faraimo, associate principal of Glenview school, and a committee member of the Atafu Tokelau community group Photo: RNZ Pacific

Tufaina Faraimo also pointed out there are 10 other languages that students can study for their NCEA.

"Our young people need anchors and learning language, that belongs to them and getting acknowledged through credits, through achievements credits would actually give them that sense of achievement and sense of purpose," Faraimo said.

Porirua schools, such as Glenview, Brandon Intermediate and Porirua College are partnering with the local community to provide innovative ways around supporting Tokelau students to learn more about their heritage.

The Atafu Tokelau Community are also running programmes teaching children Tokelau language and culture and running STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programmes linked to language revitalisation, for example designing a Tokelau language app.

College student, Terina Faraimo, is disappointed she never had the opportunity study Tokelaun at school.

"This is my last year at college and cause I'm not...very deep-rooted in my culture...it would have been nice to have support or have an idea of what Tokelau is like as a language or as a nation," Terina Faraimo said.

She's hoping that when her nieces and nephews attend college, the Tokelaun language will be in the curriculum.

Students from Porirua College performing a Tokelaun fatele (dance)

Students from Porirua College performing a Tokelaun fatele (dance) Photo: RNZ Pacific

For Iele Taulaga, spending time with his grandparents has been a good way to learn, and he wanted to play his part in keeping the language alive.

"I wanted to practise more speaking so I can understand more of what they are saying, we tell funny jokes to each other," he said.

Community social worker, Roni Vaovasa, said while it would be great to see Tokelaun offered as an NCEA subject, it's also important that the language is spoken at home.

"Someone like me for instance, being NZ born, who is not fluent, is just overcoming that pride, overcoming..any barriers, and making Gagana Tokelau a priority for me and my children.

"It's also important for our young people to speak our language so they can connect to their elders, who are also the carriers of our Tokelaun heritage," Roni Vaovasa said.

The theme for Tokelau Language week this year is 'Apoapo tau foe, i nā tāfea i te galutau. Ke mau mai, ke mau mai' which in English translates to, 'Never give up hope, even amidst chaos and much uncertainty. Stay united, stay strong'.

Tokelau fan

Tokelau fan Photo: RNZ Pacific