June 03, 2016
The Politics of the Reo.
The Politics of the Reo.
Recently I have been subject to some ill-informed ignorant and nasty comments regarding my competence in Te Reo Maori. I have been accused of being a sell out and disgrace for apparently not knowing how to speak Maori and my son showed me comments on Facebook from elite students of the Maori language who were scathing of my selection to the new National Maori Reo Board Matawai.
Sadly these people are products of a section of Maori language fundamentalist leaders who have created a group of new Maori language speakers who think they are superior to your average Maori. My son said to me “you weren’t speaking Chinese to me were you when you brought me up because it certainly sounded like Maori”. And believe it or not it was, because I am a Maori language speaker not a particularly good one but competent enough to have brought my kids up speaking Maori and I am able to deal with most Maori situations where the language is used.
I decided to get competent in the language 27 years ago, while I could do formal speeches my conversational Maori was weak and as I was just starting on Maori radio it was imperative that I improved. I was able to do that by going to language immersions with the Ngati Raukawa tribe between 1989 and 1991. They were great times, we were not allowed to speak English for seven days and everyone who went became reasonably proficient in Te Reo Maori. Many became teachers and experts in our language while others like myself didn’t really kick on as other priorities took over our lives.
However we never lost the ability to speak Maori, I will never forget what the kaumatua and teachers said to us on the first day which was, “You come here because of the fear of embarrassment and humiliation” and they were right. Sadly that embarrassment over not being able to korero Maori still pervades today, you see the insults that I have had to endure over the last week from people who didn’t check my CV properly haven’t come from Pakeha but from my own, who judge your value as a Maori on your ability to be able to speak Te Reo.
Now don’t get me wrong I have had plenty of support but I am used to critics its part of the territory that I walk, part of my world. But my heart goes out to so many of our people who don’t know how to handle these “fundamentalist zealots.” Many of our people actually speak Maori but stop for fear of condemnation from the zealots who insist you must get every word and phrase correct. And of course the majority who I represent in the city don’t even try, not because they are not proudly Maori but because they have been made to feel like outcasts by their own people.
It is a disgrace and one of the reasons why I made myself available to go on Matawai representing Maori in the cities for the National Urban Maori Authority. The fundamentalists want only the finest Maori speakers on this board but at NUMA we believe you need the right mix and balance of people. The Matawai board will be charged with looking after the overall direction of where our reo is going in Aotearoa today. It should have some exceptional Maori speakers on it and I look forward to working with them.
However the board cannot be about who can speak the best Maori but must be about how we can come up with the best strategies in terms of saving our language. The reality is that our Maori speaking population is getting fewer and fewer so we need a drastic change of attitude led by Matawai to entice our people into learning the reo. This continual arrogant demeaning attitude from some of the language leadership to people who don’t speak Maori must stop or the future for our language surely is in major jeopardy.
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