Maori in danger of losing te reo

00:07, Dec 19 2013
Hana O'Regan
PATH FORWARD: Hana O'Regan believes the future development of te reo lies with young parents who are willing to put in the time to learn a new language.

A decline in the number of Cantabrians fluent in te reo Maori has prompted warnings the indigenous language could be lost.

This year's Census revealed only 12 per cent of the 41,910 Maori in Canterbury could hold a conversation in te reo, despite the region being home to the third largest iwi in the country - Ngai Tahu.

The proportion of local Maori speakers had also fallen well below the national average of 21.3 per cent.

The number of Maori Cantabrians speaking te reo had declined from 5979 in 2006 to 5136.

Language expert Hana O'Regan, dean of Canterbury Polytechnic Institute of Technology's (CPIT) Te Puna Wanaka, said she was not surprised by the results.

''I know the majority of people in my tribe [Ngai Tahu] aren't doing anything to change the statistics.

''They might have an emotional attachment to the language but it's not enough to motivate them.''

She said the region's lower average was related to a number of factors specific to the area, including the aftermath of the quakes.

''The focus in Canterbury has shifted towards the rebuild - the profile of tertiary construction has risen dramatically,'' she said.

CPIT recorded a reduced number of enrolments in te reo Maori courses post-quakes, and O'Regan said the economic sense of gaining reconstruction qualifications was not something she wanted to argue with.

''When people are struggling for water and housing and dealing with EQC, there is no way they see the urgency of committing to developing our language.''

The devastation of the quakes also resulted in the closure of several te reo Maori education units - including Branston Intermediate, a Maori-immersion school in Hornby.

O'Regan said there were plenty of resources and opportunities available for those who wanted to learn the language, but the issue was getting people to make use of them.

''There's an online language community, there are free online resources. Nowadays it's so different from even 10 years ago.

''We're no longer in the position where we don't have the resource-base to support language acquisition."

O'Regan believed the future development of te reo was with young parents who were willing to put in the time and commitment needed to learn a new language. 

''To turn the tide, we need to collectively invest everything we've got into that group of people.

"Internationally we know for a language to thrive it needs to be spoken in the home. So we need to prepare the people with tools that can enable that.'' 


The Press