by Catherine Delahunty
It’s high time we all worked together and supported our national languages in schools starting with Te Reo Maori.
I agree with Tim Groser that learning Te Reo should be available to all children and it’s great to hear the message from an unexpected quarter. The earlier children learn languages, the better. And as Tim Groser said, it’s about more than learning kupu hou (new words), its about learning to see through new eyes and understand another culture. His comments are a clear recognition that many people who are Pakeha or Tauiwi do not understand the First People’s culture or language. It is a good idea. It is a Te Tiriti o Waitangi issue. We need to protect Te Reo Maori as a taonga.
Alex Barnes, a Pakeha who was educated in kohanga reo, was on Radio New Zealand on Sunday talking about his experience of Te Reo and how it assisted him to also learn German as an AFS student. Being multi-lingual is normal in so many parts of the world but we have lagged behind.
Learning Te Reo gives us the opportunity to build a greater understanding and respect for tangata whenua. Learing Te Reo doesn’t automatically result in a shift in the heart, but the opportunity is created by being exposed to the values expressed in the language. We can also encourage our children to understand why the indigenous language is precious and how ignoring it or mispronouncing it creates hurt.
However, before this vision can be realised, we must build the capacity. Our colleges of education need political support and resources so that quality Te Reo teaching can be a priority for the next cohort of trainees.
We can also ensure that Te Reo is first and foremost available to those from whom it was stolen. A friend from my school days was beaten on her first day of school for speaking Te Reo. Thankfully, those direct assaults on language and culture are now unacceptable, but a malign culture of neglect is very real. I want all political parties to support the goal of Te Reo for all children, and I tautoko (support) everyone who stands up for Te Reo, not as an elite option, but as the cornerstone of our Te Tiriti based identity in Aotearoa.