Maori efforts inspire delegates at indigenous conference

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2013
Language conference
MARK TAYLOR/ Fairfax NZ.

LANGUAGE AT THE FOREFRONT: Waikato University professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, right, hosting Tasmanian Aboriginal rights activist Nala Mansell-McKenna at the Indigenous Research Conference at Claudelands Event Centre.

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Efforts to revive te reo Maori have been praised by overseas academics at an indigenous conference in Hamilton who said Maori language strategies had paved the way for the revitalisation of minority languages around the world.

Waikato University's Te Kotahi Research Institute held the first day of their 3-day inaugural indigenous research conference, He Manawa Whenua, at the Claudelands Event Centre yesterday and visiting author, teacher and activist from southwestern Minnesota Professor Waziyatawin said the "most exciting experience" was the amount of Maori language she heard at the conference.

"I've done a lot of work in language recovery in the Dakota context and I know how hard it is," she said. "I know what a difficult struggle that is and I think Dakota people, like indigenous people all over the world, look to the Maori example for inspiration."

International guests and non-Maori language speakers listened to live translations of te reo through headphones in panel discussions and presentations and Prof Waziyatawin said Maori had developed a model to help shift how people thought about language revival.

"What you show us is that it is not impossible. You can reverse that trend and people are doing it."

It was her first trip to New Zealand and was a keynote speaker on how indigenous people engage and respond to environmental issues.

"I'm here to present some of my own thoughts and ideas on how indigenous people fit into the crisis and how we respond to crises like global climate change, collapse of industrial civilisation based on fossil fuels - all of those type of things," she said.

Tasmanian Aboriginal rights activist Nala Mansell-McKenna is an advocate for Aboriginal sovereignty and said the conference had given her the motivation to take new ideas back home with her.

"It's great just to be here and see indigenous people so close to home, where the language is at the forefront of everything," she said. "You fellas have got your own schools over here which I think is one of the most important things for us back home [to] teach the language, teach our children what we think is appropriate rather than what the white man thinks is appropriate."

Te Kotahi Research Institute's Dr Leonie Pihama said the conference was an opportunity to bring a range of people together to talk about issues of concern and to look for answers.

Dr Pihama said building relationships with other indigenous people was a key feature of the conference

"We do have some really key answers to critical questions within indigenous communities," she said.

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- Waikato Times

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