Diatribe | Issue 17
Te Wiki every week
The signs on doors and the casual “kia ora” all point to te wiki o Te Reo Māori. The weather will tell us we live in Otepoti, and news presenters will wish us a nice “ka kite” after the bulletin, but we should all wonder why we are doing this. Is one week of a few Māori terms really enough? And what is it for, anyway?
Us Kiwis often tell ourselves we are pioneers of indigenous-colonist relations, but talking to Māori here at Otago I perceived a latent frustration at the state of Te Reo. It is a feeling that I share, even as a newcomer [to NZ???]. Aotearoa has the potential to become a bilingual country, but first everyone must embrace Te Reo. If we want to understand Māori culture – what it means to have rangatiratanga or mana, or the differences between Iwi – we must learn the language these concepts are tied into. Even simple ideas like land and ownership can easily be muddied by mistranslations.
New Zealand Race Commissioner Joris de Bres has started a viral campaign to make New Zealand fully bilingual by 2040. The “Tokohatia” campaign is full of messages of support, but New Zealand still has a language problem. We are not bilingual until we can happily switch from one language to another or use Te Reo in the most mundane of circumstances. It’s not hard to achieve. Other nations across the world have managed to bring languages back onto the streets through measures such as bilingual signposting, official usage, and education.
However, new initiatives to push the language easily turn divisive. Last week it was decided that courts would have to make announcements in English and Māori. Those who say it’s a waste of money prove the extent of racism and prejudice against the tangata whenua. Why can’t a whole case be brought in Māori, or Samoan for that matter?
New Zealand is not a Western country. Aotearoa is a Pacific nation, and we are its whāngai.
Government incentives and grassroots campaigns can reinvigorate Māori, a language that was once given a death sentence. Today’s Māori youth are more radical, and more committed to maintaining their taonga. Language and culture are part of our core identity. They are what make us different. Te wiki will one day be every week, but before that I’m going to need to learn some.