As the national Maori Language Week settles into its 42nd year celebrating the native language, the issue about Te Reo’s place in the national education system remains on the table.
Reactions are mixed amongst the Wairarapa electorate candidates with some wishing they could speak it, some have pushed the cause for decades, and some happy with how it is currently taught at schools.
Green candidate John Hart says that he wishes he had learned Te Reo when he was younger, just as his eldest daughter is at preschool.
Making the language a compulsory subject, alongside maths and English, had many benefits for understanding the culture, he said.
It is Green Party policy to make Maori a compulsory language and to provide the resources to enable this.
The discussion around whether it should be compulsory prompted Mr Hart to say: “I think we need to think about it deeper”.
“We have a lot of compulsory subjects such as maths and English — it would be the same as that.
“To some degree it doesn’t matter what the language is, but why not learn the language native to our country.” Mr Hart is currently learning the language and aims to learn a new Maori word each day this week.
The incumbent Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri [Labour] doesn’t want Te Reo just spoken in classrooms, but wants it spread to television and in the media, and more in parliament.
“Personally, I want to see the language thrive, I want it spoken and normalised,” Ms Whaitiri said.
The government’s role should be an enabler of resources and monitoring of the funding, she said.
But the issue around resources played a part in making it compulsory – it was pointless making a subject compulsory if the government could not deliver, she said.
Labour’s policy was to train more teachers to fill this void, she said.
“The Crown is at fault and have almost literally wiped out the Maori language . . . so they are responsible for bringing it back,” she said.
Ms Whaitiri places her understanding of Te Reo at an intermediate level, where she can understand and speak it but wouldn’t call herself fluent.
For a lot of people who speak the language, this week did not really make sense for them, Ms Whaitiri said.
“It’s every day for them, but for the rest, it is let’s all say Kia Ora for a week and then we go back to normal.”
NZ First MP Ron Mark admits he does not speak the language fluently, “but understands a lot more than people would think”.
While he had no issue with not speaking Maori, the idea of forcing children to learn it at school is far from how he believes the education of the language should be approached.
The ways, and number of schools, teaching it now is “fine”.
And that was NZ First’s policy on Maori language in schools, he said.
“All my children and my grandchildren had the opportunity [to learn it], and all my grandchildren have taken that opportunity up,” Mr Mark said.
It was up to the schools and boards of trustees to decide if, and how, they wanted to offer the subject.
Therefore, it was parents’ decision to enrol their children at those schools, he said.
As for Maori Language Week, Mr Mark will “be doing nothing extra than what he already does”.
This year’s theme of Maori Language Week is ‘Kia ora te reo Maori’ to celebrate the indigenous greeting.
It is celebrated in conjunction with the recently passed Maori Language Act 2016 which leads the revitalisation of te reo Maori on behalf of iwi and Maori.
Today at 11am in Wellington, a Maori Language parade from Lambton Quay to Civic Square will take place followed by entertainment and activities.
The annual Otago Polyfest is held this week, and Auckland Council will host language films and music.
What the others think
Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty
“Te Reo is a unique language in this country, and I think we should embrace it,” he said.
He would like for his future children to have the opportunity to learn the language from their first day of school.
The Labour policy would provide resources for teachers to offer classes in Te Reo across early childhood, primary and secondary schools.
But what needed to be improved was access to resource, he said.
Mr McAnulty learned Maori through secondary and tertiary education, but would like to speak it fluently one day.
National MP Alastair Scott
Mr Scott “likes the idea of a second language” being taught in schools, which aligns with the party’s policy.
Under National policy, Maori would be one of 10 languages offered at all primary and secondary schools.
Mr Scott doesn’t speak Maori but knows basic numbers.
He encouraged his children to learn a second language, which didn’t have to be Maori, he said.
“I don’t try to pretend I speak it — I can’t.”
Ikaroa-Rawhiti candidate Elizabeth Kerekere [Green Party]
Dr Kerekere has campaigned for Maori language to be taught in schools since she protested in the streets of Dunedin at age 18.
But without a plan, implementing the compulsory policy would be difficult, and the issue of lack of resources came into play, she said.
“Teaching it in schools will transform society . . . it will cut cultural misunderstanding and racism,” she said.
Dr Kerekere grew up with her father teaching her the meaning of Maori art and carvings, and how to read the stories within them.
This week, she will be out meeting with Maori organisations, she said.