Haimona Maruera remembers his first day at primary school vividly.
He wasn't able to understand what the teacher was saying and had to muddle through lessons by following his other classmates.
The reason he felt like that was because at that point in is life, he had only ever spoken Maori and did not understand English.
Exposed to te reo from birth, he grew up with his grandparents in Patea and spent a lot of time at Pariroa Marae in Kakaramea.
However, he said he never felt like he had been disadvantaged by this in anyway.
''I think I was really lucky when I look back,'' he said.
Although never formally taught English, Maruera heard it and used it during the school day but continued to speak te reo at home and on the weekends.
Knowledge of both languages is something that has opened a lot of doors for Maruera, including in his current role as regional manager at Te Wananga o Aotearoa.
His ability to converse bilingually allows him to relate to a number of different stakeholders in the work he does promoting the institution's different programmes to professionals and students.
While based in Palmerston North, Maruera also carries out a number of roles on behalf of his iwi, Ngati Ruanui. These provide him with the chance to use his reo on marae or during other functions.
Confidence from kaumatua in his language abilities has been paramount to the success he had achieved within his iwi at such a relatively young age.
''If you're not competent or confident enough to give it back, you are always going to be on the back foot,'' the 37-year-old said.
Maruera said various iwi programmes had been organised post its 2003 treaty settlement, to build on the use and understanding of te reo for members.
''We have identified areas we want to work on,'' he said.
Maruera said a karanga wananga was held every three months along with a course which focussed on teaching men about their role on the paepae. He said although Maori Language Week helped to raise the general public's awareness of te reo, one of the challenges for iwi was to lure some of their own back.
''How do we get the good teachers and te reo facilitators into the game or back home?'' he said.
He said central government also had a role to play regarding the ongoing promotion of te reo, which has been an official language of New Zealand since 1987.
Television advertising or bilingual signage were two ideas Maruera said could be easily implemented to assist with this, along with people pronouncing simple phrases correctly in their everyday conversation.
''It would be nice to hear in every shop you walk into people saying kia ora,'' he said.
●The Taranaki Daily News would love to her from someone connected with Ngati Tama, who would like to share their passion for te reo. An invitation was extended by the Daily News to Te Runanga o Ngati Tama to be part of this series but it was declined. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my own words - what Maori language means to me By Amokura Panoho
All too often you will hear an apology from my generation that we were the generation whose parents were strapped at school for speaking Māori and therefore we were not brought up with our language. It's a sad indictment on our colonial history but something many of my generation took proactive steps to change with our own children.
Today my five children are all fluent in both Māori and English and my mokopuna now have Māori as their first language.
The biggest challenge through those early years was living with the constant devaluing of our children's education, the questioning of how having the language would improve their quality of life, to help them get jobs in the 'real' world.
Thirty odd years later, despite all the challenges that to a degree still exist for Te Kohanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa and Wharekura, we have from that sacrifice and hard work embedded the value of our language into our whānau. By the time my mokopuna are adults and having children of their own we will have three generations of reo speakers in our one whānau.
It is more than just about speaking our language however. Our language now has an economic and labour market value. In 1986 while working with the Public Service Association, I represented court reporters and translators who were seeking an allowance as recognition of their language skills when doing their job. It didn't officially happen until the 1987 Māori Language Act officially recognised the right to speak Māori in legal proceedings.
Today working in marketing and communications, companies with reo proficiency who integrate elements of cultural and language into brands for Māori and non-Māori businesses, are in high demand.
Making the language a living language is what matters now and something I will continue to strive for.
●Based in Waitara, Panoho runs a consultancy business which specialises in Maori business development.
- Taranaki Daily News
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