28 Sep 2018

Inside the attempts to revive Ngāi Tahu dialect

12:32 pm on 28 September 2018

For the last 20 years, Hana O'Regan has been part of a group looking to revive the Ngāi Tahu dialect and ensure its survival.

Hana O'Regan

Hana O'Regan Photo: Supplied

Ngāi Tahu set-up its Māori language strategy, Kotahi Mano Kāika, Kotahi Mano Wawata, in 2000 - with the aim of having 1000 Ngāi Tahu homes speaking te reo Māori.

Hana O'Regan said when the strategy was launched - there was just a handful of kaumātua who spoke with Ngāi Tāhu dialect at the time.

Prior attempts to grow te reo Māori in Ngāi Tahu included sending groups of people to learn at polytechnic in Wellington.

A small group was set up in Dunedin to create the Ngāi Tāhu language strategy and they found only a small handful of native speakers were left.

This included kaumātua Nick Te Kuiti from Makaawhio on the West Coast and Kera Brown who grew up on the remote island of Ruapuke Island near Bluff.

"They were not necessarily using the language as a language of communication by that stage - that was synonymous with the general lack of language use or capacity within the tribe."

Ngāi Tahu immersion wananga reo were held to preserve the language spoken by kaumātua.

"The language would start to come back and they'd throw these gems out like these kīwaha or these words.

"And we were at every opportunity just trying to capture what we could because we didn't have any other examples of the spoken language."

Ms O'Regan said her dialect made her feel more connected to her iwi.

"It's been important for me to try and establish a tūrakawaewae within our community within our whenua."

Her daughter is the first native speaker of Ngāi Tahu reo in her whānau and uses it so effortlessly, Ms O'Regan said.

Ms O'Regan recalls hearing her daughter use the Ngāi Tahu dialect studying for her exams.

"She saw the word and she read that word in her own dialect."

"Now that might not seem much for some people - but for me I thought it was beautiful that I could listen from the mouth of my own offspring."

The effort to save the distinct elements of the Ngāi Tahu reo has been well-worth it, Ms O'Regan said.

"Despite the colonisation (and) language loss, these elements of our language have persisted and are still here - and I love that, I love that strength."

Although she loves her dialect, she encourages Māori not be put off learning the language because they're not being taught their own dialect.

"Every bit that we teach our children now is one less thing they're going to have to actively learn when they grow up."

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