We Say – More than a holiday

The idea of starting a new year in the middle of the year will be a novel one for most of us. While Matariki has obviously been observed for millennia by Māori, non-Maori are only just catching on to its meaning and significance. The holiday has created a focus for this journey with many events on offer over the next three weeks, from live music to tree planting, shows, korero and kapa haka. It looks like being a lot of fun.

In the era that many of us grew up in, the only Maori interaction we had was at school in the good old-fashioned Maori Culture Club. Girls learned poi dances and stick games, and the boys learned a haka or two. We painted moko on our faces and sang songs without ever knowing what they meant. It was a culture club without the culture. How times have changed.

The recognition of te reo as a language of our land is long overdue. Like any indigenous language, it deserves to be revitalised, celebrated and promoted. In the 1980s fewer than 20 per cent of Māori knew enough te reo to be regarded as native speakers and, in 2020, a group of academics declared that at the current learning rate, te reo was on a downward trajectory. That’s why it is so important to integrate te reo Māori into our everyday lives so we become more comfortable with the words and phrases. For instance, Waka Kotahi sounded foreign at first, but with use it has become more natural to say than the bland ‘New Zealand Transport Agency’.

Last week, a former Cabinet Minister was accused of describing some government communications that used te reo as tokenism. If this is true, it is not helpful. Learning a new language isn’t easy and can be intimidating. No-one enjoys feeling silly so it’s encouragement that’s needed, not angry or smug condescension.

It will be a great day when we are a fully bilingual nation, when Kiwis can traverse te reo and English with ease. But in the meantime, enjoy your Matariki holiday, practise your te reo and don’t worry if it is not perfect. Confidence will come with practise and good things take time.