News - 11th September 2023

Te Wiki o te reo Māori

Bridget Gore

This week is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) which symbolises the commitment to preserving and promoting te reo Māori and culture.

 

Bridget McLeod from Hamilton Park parkrun in Gore explains what inspired her to become a te reo Māori teacher, and how she has helped incorporate Māori culture into her local parkrun.

 

Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi – With your food basket, and my food basket the people with thrive.

 

If I’ve ever felt imposter syndrome, it’s been the past two years as a te reo Māori teacher. Let me explain.

 

I am blonde, well ash-blonde if you speak to my hairdresser, and sunburn, rather than suntan during the summer. The number of times I’ve had people question my qualifications has never exceeded the past two years. Yes, I’m Pākehā; yes, I grew up in Owaka, and yes, I have a degree in te reo Māori from the University of Otago. But why?

 

First year university had me take some Māori papers, one of which was a performing arts one. The opportunity then came up to join the kapa haka rōpu and travel around schools in New Zealand promoting the University of Otago to high school students. This trip was to change the course of my life it seems.

 

Up until this point the only marae I’d ever seen was in the Otago Museum, you know the place where items of the past are displayed. Things of the PAST. However, this trip had me visiting and staying on multiple marae that were well and truly in the present and future of this country. I was ignorant. Wow. What a realisation at 19 years old.

 

As Einstein says, ‘I’m [a] passionately curious’ person, and not feeling comfortable with my level of ignorance (and believe me, I had PLENTY of opinions on Māori culture, people, and language!), I added a major in Māori to my studies.

 

But while this was a start, my journey was only starting, and still continues today. While I have avoided teaching Māori for most of my career (teaching English instead), 2021 saw my school needing a Māori teacher and I felt all of the eyes of my kaiako teachers on me telling me this was my time to use that knowledge.

 

So how am I navigating this sometimes controversial ‘issue’ of te wiki o te reo Māori? I think there needs to be a genuine understanding of why we need to promote and use this language of ours. I don’t do it because I’ve been told to. I don’t do it because I’m woke. I do it because I genuinely understand my why. It comes from the ngakau, or heart. For some, te wiki o te reo Māori is a time to find their why, to do some research into their own country’s history before they take on any actual language use.

 

The history of te reo and how Māori language and people were treated is not common knowledge, and there are feelings of anger and sadness and perhaps those of shame and fear for Pākehā. New Zealanders probably know more about international issues of civil rights rather than what happened in our own country. I believe we need to be grateful that this language, which is so important to our country, has survived, and look forward. What does a bilingual and bicultural Aotearoa look like? How do we play our part in developing this?

 

I want a country where everyone can thrive, where there isn’t a certain group of people overrepresented in poor educational outcomes, crime statistics, and health statistics. This will only happen when we value and celebrate the Māori language and culture allowing Māori to thrive. So that’s my why. I want Pākehā to thrive; I want Māori to thrive.

 

How does this look at parkrun? Well, te reo Māori is just part of my reo now, so there will always be a Māori greeting when I’m run director, sometimes a mihi to the gods, depending on the weather, and we often acknowledge the natural environment we get to enjoy each week. We have more non-Māori than Māori, and we celebrate all participants (as all event directors do) and hope my te reo Māori makes our Māori participants know this event is for them and their whānau to thrive with some fresh air, exercise and connections in our community.

 

Speaking Māori is my way of showing that I acknowledge the past and have hope for a fair and equitable Aotearoa, where everyone can thrive within their own identity.

 

Bridget McLeod

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