New Zealand: Te reo Maori opens doors

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jul 24 15:08:00 UTC 2007

Te reo Maori opens doors

Jul 23, 2007

It is 20 years since te reo Maori was recognised as an official
language of New Zealand, giving it the same status as the pakeha
language. But getting te reo Maori to the stage that it is at today
would not have happened without protest, high court action and the
hundreds of kohanga reo nuturing children in te reo. Youngsters
nutured in te reo Maori is fairly normal these days. But a generation
ago learning specifically in Maori was new and was under attack - it
was seen as radical and bad for children. Twenty five years on some of
the guinea pig students have no doubts it works.

"It is possible to foster children in that sort of educational
environment and that they will succeed," says Hoani Ashby, a lawyer at
Russell McVeigh. "Now I understand the importance of what we did back
then," says Kawairiki Morgan, reporter and director on TV ONE
programme Waka Huia . The experiment of kura kaupapa and kohanga reo
was a bid to save the Maori language. By the 1970s it was predicted
that Maori would be a language without native speakers. And turning
the tables on an education system with an "English language only"
policy wasn't going to be easy.

"Our teachers were making our books as we were learning. We had no
desks and we were in an old prefab building because we didn't have
public funding," says Morgan. "We had raffles and battons up to keep
our school going." But it was a sacrifice people were willing, and
keen, to make. many Maori  had missed out on learning their language
and they were determined it was going to be different for future
"My mother enrolled me in kohanga reo when I was 18-months-old - the
rest, as they say, is history," says Ashby. But the history of te reo
has been a rough one. It took a petition to parliament followed by a
te reo Waitangi claim before it was recognised as an official

And the first students of the language say regardless of what career
path they followed, te reo Maori has opened doors "Opportunities for
Maori speaking people, it's amazing. The world is really our oyster at
the moment," says Morgan. Now with close to 500 kohanga reo throughout
the country it seems te reo is in safe hands.

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