This week is the first Tokelau language week. Organised by the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the theme is Ke mau ki pale o Tokelau: hold fast to your treasures of Tokelau.
While almost 7000 Tokelauans live in New Zealand, only approximately 2500 can hold an everyday conversation in te gagana Tokelau (Tokelau language). Language is a vital part of culture, and the survival or otherwise of te gagana Tokelau as a living language may be decided here given that four and a half times as many Tokelauans are here than in Tokelau itself.
Here in New Zealand, my colleague Catherine Delahunty has been participating in the Parliamentary Education & Science Select Committee inquiry into Pacific Island languages in Early Childhood Education. The inquiry has heard a number of excellent submissions from individuals and organisations across the education sector and Pacific Island communities. I am hopeful that some positive steps will be taken once the inquiry is complete to ensure that children across the country have the opportunity to take part in early childhood education in their native languages, and that all children have the opportunity to experience different languages and cultures from a young age.
In July this year I attended a graduation ceremony at Toru Fetū Kindergarten in Cannons Creek. The ceremony was for graduates of the Etu Ao programme for in-home education. I was lucky enough to meet some fantastic people, including several Tokelauans, who are working hard to ensure that kids in their community receive high quality education and speak their native languages. Wellington Kindergartens should be commended for their excellent work in this area.