20 May 2021

Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka-a-Māui Māori look to revitalise te reo

10:29 am on 20 May 2021

Top of the South iwi are hoping the region's sold out te reo Māori symposium will bring the language back from near-extinction.

Hundreds have gathered for the te reo Māori symposium.

Hundreds have gathered for the te reo Māori symposium. Photo: Supplied / Erica Sinclair

Hosted by mana whenua, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō and Rangitāne o Wairau, Te Kaiaotanga o Te Reo has attracted 450 people eager to know how they can be apart of the te reo Māori revitalisation movement.

Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka-a-Māui (the top of the South) has no native speakers and, for some, there hasn't been a te reo Māori speaker in their whānau for four or five generations.

"We are probably some of the poorest iwi in Aotearoa in terms of language loss due to colonisation ... as well as becoming landless people, we have become languageless people as well," Ngāti Apa ki Te Rā Tō cultural advisor Kiley Nepia said.

Being the first in his whānau to reclaim te reo, Nepia has gone on to set up the first pā wānanga - a type of Māori immersion school - at Ōmaka marae, which is creating a new generation of Māori who know their reo and tikanga.

"Ultimately what we want is that our homes, our communities are speaking te reo Māori and not just on the marae, and not just in formal occasions but as a means of everyday communication.

"It would be an awesome day for me when I'm an old koroua and I'm up at the marae and kei te ora rawa te marae - the marae is alive and it's vibrant - and we've got all of our Te Pā Wānanga kids up there and they're all speaking te reo Māori, whether we're in the mārā kai or whether we're at the gym and then we see each other down the grocery shops and then we're talking te reo Māori as well," Nepia said.

Kiley Nepia speaks at the symposium.

Kiley Nepia speaks at the symposium. Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

Broadcaster and te reo Māori teacher Scotty Morrison spoke at the symposium and his main message for whānau was to create te reo Māori goals and a plan for how to achieve them.

"Once you start to empower families and you start to develop intergenerational language transmission, that's when the language is on the pathway to health and vitality.

"It can take one person to start the journey, they have children - ka kōrero ki a rātau tāmariki i roto o te reo - and then you've kick-started it again within that whānau."

He's seen the fruits of iwi investment in te reo, with the Ngāi Tahu language revitalisation programme, Kōtahi Mano Kaikā, creating a "complete language shift'.

"The next generation that they've brought through under Kōtahi Mano Kaika are now young leaders, they're in their teens ... but they have really high levels of te reo Māori capability".

Morrison said it was clear iwi in Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka-a-Māui were motivated and willing to invest in their people learning the language, and he wanted to more of this across the country.

Scotty Morrison.

Scotty Morrison. Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

"It's hard to put a dollar value on it, we get settlements these days with various tribes and they start to reinvest their money but I don't think they're investing enough in their cultural capability and in their language programmes to advance the wellbeing of their people.

"I think the reo is actually the key to completing Māori wellbeing in terms of the whare tapa whā that Sir Mason Durie developed, I think the reo is the thing that connects the different parts of our wellbeing."

Other speakers include stars of the popular Māori Television kids' show Te Nūtube, Te Haakura and Atareta (Te Arawa), human rights lawyer and advocate Annette Sykes, author and te reo Māori lecturer Hēmi Kelly, and Tukiterangi and Renata Curtis kapa haka exponents from Ngāti Rongomai in Rotorua.

Tā Tīmoti Kāretu (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu) one of the most revered speakers of te reo Māori in the country and the first Māori Language Commissioner will address the conference today.

For local government employee, Jill Crossman, the symposium has been "inspiring" and "life-changing".

"For a lot of Pākehā, you're unsure, you don't want to offend so you just button up but [there] was that really strong message to just give it a crack, that was great."

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