Taranaki te reo pioneer honoured at inaugural language conference
The legacy of language revitalisation left by a Taranaki kaumatua was celebrated in New Plymouth on Wednesday.
Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru was honoured with a special lifetime achievement award during the opening of Poukorero, a conference dedicated to learning new ways to keep indigenous languages alive.
It is the first time a gathering like this has taken place in Taranaki and would have been unlikely without the efforts made by Waikerepuru.
Instrumental in the establishment of Te Reo o Taranaki, an organisation focused on the region's language revitalisation and a key organiser of Poukorero, Waikerepuru along with now Minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell also set up iwi radio station Te Korimako o Taranaki.
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He was involved in a Waitangi Tribunal claim that led to te reo becoming an official language in 1987 and received a honorary doctorate from Waikato University in 1995.
Waikerepuru believed the Maori language was in good health and that everyone in New Zealand played a role in keeping it alive.
"Every hapu in the country fights for their language and all they do is speak it," he said.
Efforts made by groups like Te Reo o Taranaki to promote the language had also resulted in a "genuine belief that the language is ours," he said.
"It's exciting when Pakeha children get up and they're speaking Maori," the 87-year-old said.
Dr Ruakere Hond was among the crowd to pay tribute to Waikerepuru.
"He's been the pivotal influence on the revitalisation of the Taranaki dialect," he said.
Hond said over the the past 30 years Waikerepuru, who was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2014, had helped shape the Maori language landscape in the region.
"He was the face, the body, the mind and the heart," Hond said.
After a powhiri at Puke Ariki Museum and the presentation of taonga to Waikerepuru, Flavell also spoke about the government's Maori language strategy.
On Thursday and Friday, more workshops will be held at Parihaka's Te Paepae o Te Raukura Marae to look at what can be done to ensure the survival of indigenous languages. Those attending include a delegation representing the Ainu or the indigenous people of north Japan.
Te Reo o Taranaki plan to hold similar conferences in the coming years in order the build a national and international profile for language revitalisation techniques and research.