Hundreds of people gathered at Masterton’s library park yesterday after a hīkoi [march] down Queen St to celebrate 51 years since the Māori Language Petition was presented to Parliament.
The petition called for the recognition and revitalisation of te reo Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand by acknowledging it as an official language and offering it in schools.
The petition had more than 30,000 signatures and prompted the introduction of a Māori language day that same year, becoming Māori Language Week just three years later in 1975.
Three years after that New Zealand’s first officially bilingual school opened at Rūātoki in the Ureweras.
The crowds initially gathered outside Moore Wilson’s yesterday, singing waiata and filling the carpark with excited chatter as ākonga [students] of all ages got ready to depart.
It was the opening bars of Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi that pulled the crowd together, slowly but surely, as each person began singing along.
Mei Manaia Matiaha Warakihi Stevens, kaiako [teacher] at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa [KKMOW] gave the opening karakia [prayer] as he had at last year’s half century commemoration.
The hīkoi departed Moore Wilson’s shortly after midday.
Strong winds only served to aid the ākonga who had been tasked with carrying the Tino Rangatiratanga flags.
Among the crowd was ākonga from several Wairarapa schools, mātua [parents], Kaiako, kaumātua [elders], and whānau [extended family] along with pirihimana [police officers], and kohanga reo [Maori preschool] ākonga.
Pip Rimene, tūmuaki [principal] of KKMOW, hoped that the hīkoi commemorating the petition would only continue to grow.
Rimene was happy with the involvement of Masterton District Council [MDC] and pirihimana.
“I think it just shows a bit of the passion of our community for this kaupapa,” she said.
Mātua [parents] who work for both the council and library worked together to organise kai and space for everyone to gather after the hīkoi.
Times-Age spoke with Georgia-May Rutene who helped to organise the library park event.
Rutene previously attended the kura kaupapa Māori [Māori language school] and now works for the library.
She said she enjoyed seeing how far the kura [school] has come over the years.
“We just wanted to do something that helps celebrate Te Wiki o te Reo with the community,” she said.
Kaiako wharekura [school teacher] Hone Vella felt emotional seeing the ākonga able to openly celebrate their ancestry and participate in Te Wiki o te Reo Māori events.
“Events like this are bringing everyone together,” he said.
Vella emphasised that events like this are for everyone, regardless of their te reo knowledge. “It’s just about being together and having an opportunity to be in a Māori-immersed environment.”
There was a visible police presence as the peaceful hīkoi progressed down Queen St before stopping at the library park for kapa haka and kai.
Side streets were temporarily blocked off to control traffic.
A spokesperson for New Zealand Police confirmed the event proceeded without incident.
“It’s standard for police to have a presence at events like this, often just in terms of traffic management and ensuring no disruption to the wider community.”