Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa students Iraia Matthews, Maioha Riwai-Couch, Matua Davidson and youth development co-ordinator Cherie McNamara from Connecting Communities with their draft Māori street name signs. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Youth keeping te reo Maori alive

Emily Ireland

Keeping a language alive is a big task to put on the shoulders of young people.

But that’s the goal of a group of students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa, who are rolling out a special project for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) which began on Monday.

The group, who are members of the Eastide Wairua youth initiative, have arranged for 12 streets in Masterton East to have new Māori names, referring to significant landmarks in Wairarapa.

They have also made translated signs for public places such as the netball courts, Te Awhina Cameron Community House, and McJorrow Park.

Student Iraia Matthews said their goals were to help people learn te reo Māori, to make more people interested in learning the language, and to make te reo more accessible for people of all races.

“I think it’s getting more accessible as the years go by, but we really want to normalise it and make it so that everyone sees it every day.”

Fellow student Maioha Riwai-Couch said she considered herself and her peers pretty lucky to be able to speak te reo Māori.

Students at her school are taught almost exclusively in te reo Māori.

“I feel like the kids here – including me – need to realise it’s up to us to keep te reo Māori alive.

“No pressure,” she said.

Eastside Wairua co-ordinator Cherie McNamara of Connecting Communities Wairarapa said there were 18 new te reo Māori signs which would be stealthily installed this week by “Māori ninjas”.

She said the project was really special and hoped people would feel encouraged to learn te reo from it.

“There are a lot of barriers in ensuring children have access to learning the language,” she said.

“I didn’t as a child, and I wish I had those opportunities.

“I look back now and think, oh my gosh, I am Māori.

“People look at you and expect you to speak it, and it’s sad that I don’t know how to.

“I look at these guys and it warms my heart.

“It’s beautiful listening to them and being taught by them.

“When I’m older I want to be like them,” she laughed.

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa teacher Whaea Pip Rimene is Pākehā (non-Māori New Zealander) and has been actively learning te reo Māori for 25 years.

She had learned the language in primary school in Auckland, but moved away from the area and only continued her learning as an adult upon enrolling her second child in kōhanga (preschool).

“When I enrolled my daughter at kōhanga, I went to the library and got out some modern Māori books.

“I would go to kōhanga with my daughter and listen to what was being said and I would write down words I was hearing frequently and go home and look them up in the dictionary.”

She said she also started doing her morning routine in te reo Māori.

“We worked out all the phrases we would use to get our kids ready in the morning and I was really super nerdy and made up posters in nearly every room of my house with all the phrases I would need.

“Initially, I was referring to the posters all the time, but suddenly, because I was using the phrases every day, it became second nature.

Whaea Pip has been working at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa for 12 years.

The Eastside Wairua signs are temporary and will be placed under the English street name, but because they have been made with a sturdy material, they will not be taken down after Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori.

“We want it to be normal for our community to see te reo Māori signs,” Cherie said.

The Eastside Wairua group is supported by Connecting Communities Wairarapa.

New temporary street names

Current                   New
Cameron Cr            Maugaraki
River Rd                  Tararua
Grant Cr                  Tauwharenikau
Dee Pl                     Waiohine
Oban Pl                   Te Maipi
Clive St                    Waiawangawanga
Stuart Cr                  Waipoua
Tay Pl                       Rangitumau
Johnston St              Mangakuta
Makora Rd               Makoura
Iorns St                    Taratahi
Church St                 Ruamahanga