Vini Olsen-Reeder is about to receive the first PhD at Vic in te reo Māori video


Connecting with te reo Māori brought Vini Olsen-Reeder closer to his culture and the language has become the foundation of his future.

Vini Olsen-Reeder shared his "out-of-body experience" with reporter Brad Flahive as part of the One in Five Million project. 

As he read aloud the words of his whakapapa it unlocked such strong emotions it conjured an "out-of-body experience" reassuring him he was home.  

Vini Olsen-Reeder was terrified the day he stepped onto his family marae for the first time, but the experience stirred feelings which gave him a serene clarity of what the occasion meant to him.

"It was really scary going to this place that wasn't yet my home, but I really wanted it to be," said Olsen-Reeder.

"My uncle took my sister and I in there, he recited our whakapapa, our genealogy, and that was the first time I felt a strong link to that place. I knew then, and it was a massive turning point for me."

As Olsen-Reeder, 27, recalls that day at Rōmai Marae in Tauranga seven years ago, the emotions return to his eyes as if he going through it all again.

One in Five Million
Find out where you fit in NZ
Supported by
No information you enter is saved or reused by Stuff. All questions are optional
What religion or religious groups do you identify with?
Belonging to family
How strong is your sense of belonging to your family from 0-10 (10 being strongest)?
Belonging to NZ
How strong is your sense of belonging to New Zealand from 0-10 (10 being strongest)?
Being yourself
How easy or hard is it for you to be yourself in New Zealand?
Belonging to family
0 - 6
Stats NZ/NZ General Social Survey
Belonging to NZ
0 - 6
Stats NZ/NZ General Social Survey
Being yourself
Very easy or easy
Not always easy

"It was half terrifying, and half like an outer body moment when you finally feel that sense of belonging to your people.

"[Recently] our iwi opened a papakāinga which is a small settlement of six houses on the marae for our kaumātua, for our older generation. I love giving back like that. My Nana is living in one of them so when I go there I feel yep, that's home."

Olsen-Reeder's awakening started a journey which has led him to discover his culture, and unlock a passion for language which has become his career - lecturing te reo Māori at Wellington's Victoria University.

Vini Olsen-Reeder is the first student to complete a PhD in te reo Māori at Victoria University.

Vini Olsen-Reeder is the first student to complete a PhD in te reo Māori at Victoria University.

"It became apparent pretty quick you can't learn the language without learning the culture," he said sitting beneath the tukutuku paneling of Te Herenga Waka Marae at Wellington's Victoria University.

Ad Feedback

The marae, nestled into the university's campus, is named 'the hitching post of canoes' and is his home away from home.

It's the place Olsen-Reeder turned from student to teacher, and where he now guides others to reach that magic moment when te reo Māori rolls off the tongue without a thought.

"The really big buzz for me is when they go from knowing a lot, but not necessarily able to get it out off the cuff, to when they're rattling off anything they want to say," he said.

Before realising his roots in Tauranga, Olsen-Reeder grew up in Whanganui with his mother's side of the family.

"In a little community called Gonville, I went to Gonville Primary," he said.

"I remember running water down the driveway to make puddles for my bike, grazing my legs when I fell off it. My childhood in Whanganui was quite cool."

He considers himself fortunate to have grown up outside not concerned with electronic devices, but he has no memory of te reo in his early life.

"I don't remember us doing any waita or karakia, or anything.

"My dad is now trying to learn more and more, so he can eventually pass on the language he has to my future kids - he was awesome at teaching us pronunciation."


Olsen-Reeder is now settled in the capital city, looking to buy a house while he stays with friends to save on rent.

Like a lot of Kiwis he wasn't always so sure what he wanted to do with his life. "I just knew I wanted to go to university," he said.

"I started studying music but just found it wasn't for me, but I picked up te reo and just absolutely fell in love with it. I'm so lucky to be employed for te reo, and by te reo."

Not that it was easy, he started with trepidation and worried about making mistakes.

"I thought I was the only Māori who couldn't speak te reo, but sitting with them and learning here [at the university marae] - I quickly learnt there are heaps of people just like me, and that's OK."

As he prepared for Māori Language Week, he was excited at the direction te reo is heading - away from being a treasure left on the museum shelf, as his mentor Professor Rawinia Higgins might say.

"Taonga can be things we use all of the time that are functional, that are pragmatic, that we mess and play around with.

"The real value of te reo and the way we can show it's a taonga, is by using it and by treating as something we want to have around us all the time."

"We see it's value in the way that we use it and how much we use it, and not worry that we never get a word wrong or a sentence wrong and make a mistake. That's the sentiment that's around at the moment, some people feel if you can't get it right then don't do it all.

"We have had so much government policy and mainstream policy that has disaffected our language, that actually if you can speak Māori now it's a real privilege to carry. It's not something that comes easily, you really have to work hard for it."

At the end of the year he will be the first Victoria student to graduate with a PhD in te reo Māori, for his research into bilingualism as a theoretical approach to revitalisation, and the ways in which a bilingualism approach could remove some of the anxieties surrounding Māori language use among Māori speakers.

His excitement and drive for te reo Māori is as strong as his willingness to impart his wisdom onto others.

"Moving into teaching means most of my job is about giving people back their identity they didn't have as a kid.

"I feel lucky I get to pay my bills by doing something that is so important and rewarding."

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers

Man dead at container yard

The man was critically injured but later died at the scene.

A man has died after getting trapped at a south Auckland container yard.

Phone app's sole purpose

Angad Nayyar is the chief executive of Strutagio, an app designed to help shoppers find the perfect-sized shoe.

Auckland friends develop app that lets customers try on shoes without setting foot in a physical store.

Pregnant? Eat salmon

Freshly cooked salmon carries a low risk of mercury contamination, and is fine to eat when pregnant, Massey researchers say.

Shunning fish during pregnancy for fears of toxicity has meant women are lacking in nutrients essential for a growing fetus.

NZDF to the rescue video

HMNZS Endeavour heads for Marsden Point oil refinery, to help ease the fuel shortage crisis.

The army, air force and navy will redistribute fuel across the country by land and by sea.


Wild WOW opening in Wellington video

'Theodore', by Marie Wright and Taralee Freeman, of New Zealand, is modelled in the Weta Workshop Science Fiction section

More than 100 garments made out of everything from bicycle tubes to latex.

Man on fire dies

Cordons were set up around Parliament after the incident.

The man who reportedly set himself on fire outside Parliament has died overnight, police say.

Slip at Rimutaka Hill

The NZTA are investigating a possible slip on State Highway 2 at the Rimutaka Hill.

There are reports of a slip blocking the southbound lane halfway up SH2 at the Rimutaka Hill.

Pregnant? Eat salmon

Freshly cooked salmon carries a low risk of mercury contamination, and is fine to eat when pregnant, Massey researchers say.

Shunning fish during pregnancy for fears of toxicity has meant women are lacking in nutrients essential for a growing fetus.


High temperatures coming

The sun sets over the Pacific Ocean behind Bixby Bridge on Highway 1 north of Big Sur, California, December 19, 2013. ...

Warm air set to bake Australia will hit NZ from Sunday, MetService says.

Third lane approved

Congestion on the northern motorway just south of the Waimakariri Bridge. A third lane for "high occupancy vehicles" has ...

Green light for extra lane and cycleway on the Waimakariri Bridge across SH1.

Astonishing kidnap escape

Police guard a Andrew Cameron's house near Hanmer on Tuesday morning.

With a gun held to his neck, Hanmer kidnap victim jumped from the car he was forced to drive.

People missing from rebuild

OPINION: It's fast becoming apparent the rebuild will take somewhere between the expected lifespan of a heavy smoker and that of Queen Liz.


Monster slip chases woman video

A slip, estimated between 10 and 20 hectares, has fallen from private farm land in Waitomo.

Joanne Tapara outran an avalanche of rock and mud that claimed 6 cows, 40 ewes and 70 lambs.

High temps to roll in

The sun sets over the Pacific Ocean behind Bixby Bridge on Highway 1 north of Big Sur, California, December 19, 2013. ...

Warm air set to bake Australia in temperatures above 30C will then hit NZ, MetService says.

Dental pros win $30m Lotto prize

Tina from Taupō and nine of her friends won Saturday's $30 million Lotto jackpot.

Tina from Taupō and ten of her posse are all smiles after winning enormous Powerball jackpot.

Fleeing driver on the run

The driver of a Mazda fled from a drink drive checkpoint in Hamilton at midnight (file photo).

Driver wasn't stopping for the booze bus and managed to run from the crashed car shortly after.


Dementia: a love story video

11092017 News Photo ANDY JACKSON/STUFF.  The Ticking Timebomb, a series looking at the rising issues of alzheimers ...

Tom Matiaha's 24 years as a soldier could not prepare him for his family's battle against a hidden foe: Alzheimer's disease.

The 'downhill slide'

11092017 News Photo ANDY JACKSON/STUFF.  The Ticking Timebomb, a series looking at the rising issues of Alzheimers ...

He's forgotten how to peel potatoes but fears forgetting his children most.

Unlocking dementia's secrets video

A team of scientists at the Centre for Brain Research  process a human brain that has just been donated.

Dementia has a terrible effect on many Kiwi lives, and the situation will get worse. 

Dementia a life-changing loss for all

Margaret Lacy with a picture of her late husband Peter.

Dementia affects tens of thousands of Kiwis, eventually taking everything from them. 


Birthing centre delivered

Palmerston North's new birthing centre is almost open. Annie Kinloch, left, and Chloe Wright check out the new building.

Pink or blue lights will flash when a new baby is born at Palmerston North's new centre.

No more snooping

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen refused to vote on a new email blocking policy.

The Horowhenua District Council is changing the way it screens emails.

83-year-old dies in crash

A car and a truck crashed at an intersection in Levin.

The man died on Monday after his car collided with a truck in Levin.

The one poll that matters

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Bill English say the 2017 election race is very tight.

OPINION: The debates have been robust, but the arguing is nearly over.


New SHAs approved in Nelson


The former Green Grocer Store on the corner of Grove St and Tasman St in The ...

Seven new SHAs approved by the Nelson City Council including a tiny house project.

Tight race draws voters

Tasman Makos Pari Pari Parkinson, left, Rupena Parkinson, Siua Halanukonuka and Viliami Lolohea vote at the advance ...

Make your vote count in what's tipped to be a tight race for the Beehive.

Blue whale washes ashore gallery video

A blue whale carcass washed ashore at Glenburn Station in Wairarapa on Wednesday.

A dead blue whale first spotted off d'Urville Island has washed up on a Wairarapa beach.

Working mum sleeping in shed

Cath has been looking for somewhere to live, and is forced to live in a shed with no windows until something better ...

She's separated from her six kids as she struggles to get even motel accommodation.


When the voting's done

Labour candidate Janette Walker has to juggle her work at Crossroads Charitable Trust with her campaign work.

Two will be at the pub, one will be at home, the incumbent has hired a hall. But who will be celebrating?

Leap in rateable values

New capital values across Marlborough show a big increase for Picton properties. (File pic)

Some properties have seen their capital value incease by a whopping 28 per cent.

History can be cool

Archives manager Megan Ross goes through the massive collection at the Marlborough Museum.

"It's 13.4 degrees in here," says Megan Ross, pointing at the thermometer flanked by shelves and shelves of negatives and other memorabilia.

Māori school for everyone

Kiley Nepia at Omaka Marae, which will launch a Māori immersion school next year.

"If this Māori way resonates with other people, then they would be considered as well."

South Canterbury

A toast to the bicycle video

Graeme Simpson is preparing to take a collection of old bikes to Waimate to celebrate 200 years of the bicycle.

Bicycles of all shapes and sizes to be celebrated in 200th anniversary event.

Air plan approved

South Canterbury Regional Air Plan Liaison Committee chairman Mark Rogers with committee members Doug Cleveland, centre, ...

Grey Power president says it was "too much" to expect woodburner rule to be ditched.

Church parking concerns

Lake Tekapo Church of the Good Shepherd. The Mackenzie District Council proposes a raft of measures to reduce the impact ...

Buses may soon have to park further away from Tekapo's popular lakefront church.

Swaps for councils, schools

Aoraki Development CEO Nigel Davenport, who was invited to go on the delegation to sign the agreement, said it was "a ...

MOU will allow council staff to exchange with  sister city and could bring raft of benefits.


Residents unsatisfied with DQ

Blue Peaks Lodge manager Michael McMillan was appointed to the Destination Queenstown board to represent the ...

Queenstown had a four per cent increase in visitors to about 3.2 million in the 2016/17 year.

Highlanders land prop early

Tyrel Lomax played his first game for Tasman last weekend.

Son of former Kiwis league player will join Highlanders next year after Melbourne Rebels cut him loose.

Fears community heart will be lost

Queenstown Arts Centre coordinator Andie King said an art gallery, community groups and workshop spaces should be ...

The council says the location could provide "a combined Council office and a community heart."

Riley Baker memorial to stay?

Dunedin photographer Riley Baker with his partner, Amy McPherson. He died in hospital from injuries after a tourist ...

Mayor tells Dunedin crash victim's family his ashes can stay put, but NZTA says that's not confirmed.


70 years and still going strong

John and Joan Welsh with their wedding day photo from 1947.

On September 22, John and Joan Welsh celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.

Trust announces it will seek review

Community Trust of Southland chair Margot Hishon

The Community Trust of Southland will seek a ministerial review into the circumstances surrounding the departure of its former chief executive. 

Bluff sign bluff

Scottish tourist Geoff Mumford a little confused by the directions for Wellington and Cape Reinga which pointed in ...

Bluff's famous signpost is all over the place.

Voters harassed

Entrance to the polling booth at the Menzies Building on Esk St.

Early voters in Invercargill have been subject to intimidation and verbal abuse on their way to cast their ballots.

Ad Feedback