Hemi Pokere always felt like he was cheating before he upped his skills in te reo Maori.
During more than a dozen years working in mental health, he was often called on to respond when te reo was being spoken.
“I felt inferior, like I was cheating. It'd just about bring tears to your eyes. I knew just enough to get through.”
Now 68, Mr Pokere is overcoming a lifetime of embarrassment through a course specifically designed for Taranaki kaumatua.
Pokaitahi Taiahoaho, run by Te Reo o Taranaki in conjunction with Witt, aims to strengthen kaumatua in their cultural roles.
Mr Pokere chairs the kaumatua council of Te Ati Awa Nui Tonu, made up of elders of Te Ati Awa, Ngati Mutunga, Ngati Tama and Ngati Maru.
It provides advice, recommendations and feedback to a wide range of bodies, from local councils to Grey Power, schools to Government departments.
Mr Pokere spoke te reo as a child. From the age of 3 he lived in Oeo with his grandmother, who spoke no English.
But at age 7 his father died, and young Hemi Pokere moved to New Plymouth with his mother.
“She wanted me to get an education, so she changed to English. My reo just fell away. I had a new language to learn.”
Unlike his parents' generation, he was not strapped for speaking Maori at Moturoa School, but he was told off and made to stand in the corner.
At Wesley College in Pukekohe, Hemi Pokere was embarrassed that people from other cultures such as Tongan and Japanese students could speak their own language, but most of the Maori boys could not.
He says Pokaitahi Taiahoaho has hugely increased his confidence in heading the kaumatua council - and in use of te reo generally.
“It's fulfilled me. It's like a blessing - it's got rid of the cheating feeling. I'm not taking short cuts now."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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