MĀOR110 Should be Mandatory

MĀOR110 Should be Mandatory

The University’s decision to bar students with recognised experience in te reo Māori from taking MĀOR110 (Conversational Māori) was regrettable to be sure. It was undone after students pushed back. The second most regrettable decision the University has made was not making the paper compulsory. 

It has come to my attention that, actually, the basics should no longer be optional – they must now be made mandatory. To call Aotearoa a ‘multicultural society’ while actively challenging the status of the Māori language is indicative of its apparent inferiority: rarely uncontested, constantly scrutinised, but for what?

Following a recent statement from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, competence in Māori language and culture will eventually be mandatory for teachers. But this announcement did more than promote potential exposure to bilingualism in schools: it provided a platform for bigots to air their anti-Māori sentiments, reeking of racist rhetoric. Public responses ranged from “[te reo] Māori is irrelevant in preparing future workers” to “how about focusing on the basic subjects first?” In actuality, the potential mandate does not require all schools to teach in a Māori-medium setting, but rather seeks to maintain the competency of pronouncing a student’s name correctly. Also, te reo IS the basics, Karen. 

Many students at the University of Otago will attest to hearing (or believing) that the 100-level Māori papers are ‘easy passes’ and the key to a GPA boost. Considering the invaluable content of these papers, this idea is problematic. The rumour that 100-level Māori papers “basically give out the answers in lectures” is suggestive of how a select few students rely on the handouts rather than pursuing ‘basic’ knowledge. Relying on handouts: okay for me, but not for thee, apparently. That being said, the only folks I know to have taken MĀOR110 were doing it for an ‘easy pass’ and – wait for it – they weren’t Māori. So now, the same people that call te reo Māori a ‘stone-age language’ are also the same folks that exploit it when it suits them. Take my ‘stone-age’ language and shove it, you monolingual swine.

Mātauraka Māori is equally as valuable as Western knowledge. Embedded in our navigational skills and the functioning of Māori society, mātauraka Māori was, and still is, absolutely limitless. The traditional Māori healing system, rongoā Māori, relies on the taiao (environment) as a medicine cabinet, also relying on particular karakia (incantations) and mirimiri (massage), as well as highlighting the importance of shared conversation as a way of healing. Traditionally a closed practice, rongoā Māori was reserved for a select few who acted as the medical practitioners and healers of the pre-colonial world. 

In today’s world, many of these traditional concepts are denounced - but only by their te reo names. Mirimiri is rebuked, but ‘massage therapy’ is chique. ‘Positive affirmations’ can change your life, but karakia is a waste of time. Pills instead of kōwhai and koromiko. Man-made solutions to man-made problems. Modern medicine has exploded in quality, but what is yet to progress are the attitudes surrounding the Māori culture and language in these fields.

People love to discuss statistics rather than the lived experiences and circumstances that underpin those numbers. A quick venture to Aunty Google will tell you that Māori die at four times the rate of non-Māori from cardiovascular disease and are far more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes, asthma and arthritis. But in saying that, as of 2019, 69.9% of doctors in Aotearoa were of European descent. Māori are reported to be less likely to initiate an appointment to a doctor, which comes as no surprise given how often they butcher our names and overlook our tikanga. A name is ‘just a name’ until it makes you less likely to seek treatment. A name is everything.

Cultural competency is essential to progressing in the modern world, especially in the medical field. As a doctor, understanding Māori customs is critical to upholding your oath to “do no harm”. Māori approach different aspects of life in unfamiliar ways. It means that death impacts us differently than it would to a Pākehā. It means that clean water must be available at all times. It means that Covid restrictions make tikanga difficult to adhere to. As a doctor, if you don’t understand this, you don’t understand your patient. 

So, officials of the University of Otago, this is the tono you’ve been waiting for. Cultural competency is, quite literally, the bare minimum –  are you gonna mandate it, or should I wait another 180 years?

This article first appeared in Issue 22, 2022.
Posted 6:27pm Sunday 11th September 2022 by Nā Skyla from Ngāti Hine.