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Te Puni Kōkiri: Realising Māori Potential

This week we celebrate Māori Language Week 2009. For Te Puni Kōkiri, this is a special time of year. A time when we acknowledge the Māori language renaissance and look forward to a time when language shift has been reversed and te reo Māori is once again the language of our Māori communities.

Te Puni Kōkiri supports Māori Language Week because we acknowledge the inextricable link between Māori language and culture. The advantages of knowing ones culture and language significantly impact on one’s overall wellbeing.

It is important that Māori people value te reo Māori. It is also important that non-Māori people value te reo Māori. Māori Language Week is one initiative that aims to raise the status of te reo Māori amongst Māori and non-Māori.

Within Aotearoa, te reo Māori is a minority language. Only around 4% of the population can speak te reo (this also includes the small number of non-Māori speakers). Over time, te reo Māori has shifted from its place as the primary language of communication within Māori whānau. Māori language revitalisation efforts are primarily targeted at regenerating te reo Māori within Māori whānau but literature tells us that there is a component that requires support from non-Māori. And this is where the ideas behind Māori Language Week come into play.

Minority languages offer suffer from the lack of value placed upon them by non-speakers. Often the economic benefits of knowing a minority language are seen as non-existent, especially when compared with international languages such as Chinese or French for example. Sometimes minority languages are viewed as obsolete and of little use.

For Māori people however, te reo Māori represents identity, culture and whakapapa. And for many Māori, this provides the motivation they need to value, learn and use te reo Māori. More and more Māori are coming on board. Data from our 2006 Survey on the health of the Māori language showed us that more Māori are improving their Māori language proficiency and using their language skills, particularly in their homes. For those of us working towards Māori language revitalisation, this is good news.

For people who are not Māori, the motivation to value, let alone, learn and use te reo Māori, may not be so obvious. But it is important. If one of the goals is for Māori people to use their reo Māori wherever they are, then we need to create a positive linguistic environment. What does this look like? Well, perhaps if I’m in the supermarket speaking Māori to my children I will be complimented rather than scowled at (this has happened). Or maybe when someone is greeted on the phone with a “kia ora” they won’t get frightened and hung up. A positive linguistic environment is an Aotearoa where people accept te reo Māori as a language of New Zealand. No-one bats an eyelid.

Our linguistic landscape is changing and so are people’s attitudes. Data from our 2006 survey on attitudes, values and beliefs towards the Māori language showed us that attitudes from Māori and non-Māori are becoming more positive.

Māori Language Week helps to put the message out there to Māori and non-Māori to be proud, to accept, to use, to embrace te reo Māori.

We ♥ te reo Māori, you should too.

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