English Translation of Māori Language Week speech

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I gave this speech on 29 July 2015 to mark Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week. You can watch the speech in Te Reo here: https://youtu.be/5SuyP5Q0u9g

This week is Māori Language Week. In fact it is the 40th anniversary of Māori Language Week.

I come from a family where Te Reo wasn’t spoken – only by our grandmother. Our father taught us to be proud of our Māori heritage, but he also wanted to prepare us to fit in and succeed in a Pakeha-dominated society.

The emphasis he placed on us being proficient in English, at the expense of te reo Māori, was a reflection of the society he wanted us to succeed in.

At a time when speaking te reo Māori was still suppressed in many schools, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend St. Stephens School where I first started learning te reo.

When I left school and returned to Canterbury, I stopped learning and using the language.

When I went overseas to work, while I learned French and Italian, I soon lost my own language.

It was only when I returned to New Zealand that I began speaking on the paepae at my marae, got involved in Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, and began re-learning te reo Māori.

This week, it has been great to hear members of this House making the effort to use te reo over the last two days.

It has been great to hear members attempting to pronounce Māori words and names correctly.

And it has been great to see te reo Māori and the promotion of Māori words throughout the media.

I returned to New Zealand in 1998, and already since that time I have seen a huge improvement of the pronunciation and use of te reo Māori throughout New Zealand.

Increasingly I see non-Māori New Zealanders recognising the importance of te reo Māori as an official language, our nation’s first language and the one spoken language in the world which is uniquely ours.

More and more Māori words are being used as ‘loan’ words in an English speaker’s vocabulary.

But not all the change has been good. The number of Māori who can hold a conversation in te reo Māori is steadily declining.

Our language is a vital part of our culture, and I believe it is the key to keeping our culture alive.

Sure, there are plenty of Māori who value and participate in our culture but who do not speak our language, as we did in our family.

But we need to treasure our language. We need to encourage our young people to learn it, and provide every opportunity we can for them to do so.

I want to thank the Honourable Hekia Parata for her answers to my questions in the House yesterday, where she explained what is being done to promote te reo Māori in mainstream schools, and to grow Māori-medium education.

I believe that by continuing the growth of Māori-medium education, and increasing the English-medium schools teaching te reo, we can reverse the trend.

And that in the future we will see more and more of our people choosing to learn te reo and teach it to their children.