Editorial: Positive moves to embrace te reo

00:30, Jul 11 2011

No doubt some readers will have dismissed a couple of features in Saturday's Mail as tokenism – small offerings dutifully delivered to mark Te Wiki o te Reo Maori, Maori Language Week.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The timing might have been tied to the week just past but the subjects – Nelson College's new whare, Te Ara Poutama, and progress on the Richmond Maori immersion school Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tuia te Matangi – stand on merit. If anything, their importance has been understated.

College old boy John Krammer got it right in a recent letter to the editor, musing on the whare's importance to the school which he attended from 1947-50. It was, he said, the second leg of a trifecta which stood to give the college an increasingly attractive edge as an educational institute. The others were the school's well-established Matakitaki Lodge, and the latest work in progress, a trade training centre. The attitude change towards all things Maori in the six decades since Mr Krammer was at the school could hardly have been greater.

Equally transformational is the surging interest in Maori language schools in this region. Though the reo immersion movement continues to be treated with suspicion and cynicism by many non-Maori, the demand from parents continues to outstrip the supply of competent teachers. Rather than dismiss reo as having no relevance in the modern world, increasingly parents are seeing the benefits of multi-lingual learning.

The demand in Nelson for reo classes seems to run counter to the region's demographic mix. Some schools have doubled their immersion rolls over the past couple of years. This continuing wave of support – compared with declining numbers in some parts of the country – helps explain the Government's backing of the kura kaupapa at Richmond, to be built on the Salisbury School grounds. Though successive administrations have invested heavily in "saving" and supporting reo, the Government's decision to contribute $4 million to this project is significant.

For many of us, Maori Language Week likely means little more than seeing Whakatu instead of Nelson on the TV weather maps and hearing "kia ora" on the radio. This might, perhaps, nudge a few people into considering how they pronounce local place-names ... whether Hira should be "high-ra" or "hee-ra", for example. Even that is important. Who thinks of Beijing as "Peking" these days? Surely the same courteous focus on accuracy should be extended to our own place-names.

However, neither government money, more sensitive newsreaders, nor a more aware community will "save" the Maori language. Its future requires that it be spoken at home and in the community – and the whare and Richmond kura have roles in that process. Why is that important to New Zealand? Because language is the heart and mind of a culture. The greater the pride in and awareness of kaupapa Maori – across the whole community – the healthier and more productive our society will be. A focus last century on eradicating te reo has proved shamefully destructive. Today's moves to repair the damage are overwhelmingly positive.

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The Nelson Mail