Last week a young man in Year 11 at Kapiti College became a hit on Youtube with his NCEA assessed English speech on cherishing the Maori Language by making an effort to pronounce it properly. He stated that the Maori language is part of our heritage as New Zealanders.
As I watched the Youtube video, I realised that the popularity of his speech represented a cultural shift that is worth celebrating in te wiki o te reo Maori, Maori language week.
I enjoyed a childhood enriched by Maoritanga. In Christchurch in the 1950s, I spent much time with an aunt and cousins who were Maori. We were close. In the early 1960s, when my parents moved north to Tauranga for work, I played at the pa with my neighbours, learning to track in the bush with them and to sing and speak the snippets of Maori language that punctuated their everyday greetings, games and music. My standard three teacher was a young Maori woman who taught me to do the poi after school. Then my parents moved me to Auckland for secondary school where I belonged to the Maori Club and performed in assemblies and concerts. I thought my inclusion was normal and took it for granted.
But then came the radicalism of the 70s and the anger of 80s, most of it justified. But during those years, I experienced being not welcome to join Maori interests by radicals who saw all pakeha as foreigners who had a choice to go back to where they had come from (which I couldn’t) I was shocked and hurt because my identity as a New Zealander and my connection to Maori and the Maori language were being challenged.
Now several decades later, after having taught languages since the mid-70s, including for two years Maori language, I hear this speech but more importantly witness this national applause. There has indeed been a shift if a young pakeha male can be celebrated for standing up for the Maori language without being challenged or questioned as to his right to do so by Maori. I am encouraged.
Kapai, e hoa!