The impetus behind the regeneration of the Māori language – and Māori culture more generally – came from Māori communities themselves, as exemplified by the kōhanga reo movement that emerged in the early 1980s, inspired by Māori leaders who saw that something needed to be done in order to ensure the transfer of cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.

At around the same time, a Court of Appeal decision to officially recognise te reo Māori as a taonga (treasure), as understood in the Treaty of Waitangi, gave a significant boost to Māori-medium education. More public schools began to offer te reo Māori as a subject and eventually Māori immersion and bilingual units were developed. These initiatives reflected the expectations and vision of whānau, iwi, communities and educators.

The first kōhanga reo opened in Wainuiomata, near Wellington, in 1981. The first kura kaupapa Māori opened in 1985 at Hoani Waititi Marae. From these beginnings, a broad network of Māori-medium schools has developed. They all began as Māori community initiatives.

Māori-medium education and kaupapa Māori education, which focuses on living the Māori world view within education programmes, are now part of New Zealand’s formalised education system. But Hineihaea Murphy, director of Haemata, a private provider of professional support and learning to Māori-speaking teachers, formed her company because she believes that we should be wary of over-reliance on the public sector.

A living language

Hineihaea and husband Mark Fell started Haemata in 1999. Hineihaea believes that for tikanga Māori and te ao Māori to thrive as it should in our modern society, and for te reo Māori to truly become once again a living language, everybody – government, the private sector, and communities themselves – needs to play their part.

“We had both worked in the public sector for many years, but we believed then, as we do now, that it is not the role of the public sector alone to ensure that we achieve positive outcomes.

“In my view, as Māori we need to take more control of outcomes for ourselves. This view has been foundational in our professional and private lives – we raised our three children as first language speakers of Māori, which many parents are also now doing.

“‘Walking the talk’ [in this way] can be really challenging and difficult at times, but having integrity is one of our key values. Supporting parents and staff to make decisions that are right for their families around Māori education and te reo Māori is part of our mission, and inspires us to do what we do. Whānau is a big part of who we are, what we are, and how we do things.”

A crucial role

Hineihaea and her team are teachers themselves, and so they are well aware that teachers play a huge role in helping to sustain the regeneration of te reo Māori and Māori education, in all contexts. That means, says Hineihaea, that it’s not good enough for Māori educators to be simply fluent; they need to be just as skilled in the craft of teaching.

“As teachers, and teacher educators, we appreciate that teachers have a huge contribution to make. Having highly skilled teachers who are culturally and linguistically well equipped to work with Māori students in English-medium and Māori-medium classrooms is not an option, it is essential.

“In Māori-medium settings in particular, we need kaiako (teachers) who are not only skilled in the craft of teaching, but also knowledgeable in the curriculum; proficient in te reo Māori ‘teacher language’; and who know how to support children to learn in te reo Māori – teachers who can facilitate the development of the cognitive, linguistic, and cultural dimensions of being a Māori learner. So much of the work we do in terms of professional development is driven by these objectives.”

Much of the work that Hineihaea and her team do at primary level is onsite, working with individual teachers on specific needs, as well as those of the kura (school) itself. The majority of this work takes place in a Māori-medium context.

Haemata also offers national and regional teacher training courses at middle and secondary level through Ako Panuku, a Ministry of Education initiative that aims to support Māori teachers in Māori and English-medium classrooms.

Hineihaea and the team also believe that cross-fertilisation of ideas helps to strengthen everybody’s practice.

“While in-school teacher support is sometimes seen as more effective these days, we also believe that it is important for kaiako to meet with, work with, learn with, and share with colleagues from other schools. Cross-fertilisation of ideas can be hugely important for professional learning. This is particularly important for teachers who are isolated or in a minority either because they are Māori; they are the sole teacher of their subject; they are in a leadership position; or they have not worked in many – or any – other kura/schools.

“We also find at Ako Panuku that Māori teachers are more comfortable engaging in professional learning with colleagues who are Māori, and with facilitators who are also Māori – there is a cultural compatibility that can’t be understated.”

Hineihaea and the team try to be as responsive as possible to the changing needs of teachers. This year, they will be offering middle and secondary level courses through Ako Panuku.

Haemata also provides ongoing professional development via the three Ako Panuku professional communities: Te Kāhui Kaiako Reo Māori (for teachers of te reo Māori), Te Kāhui Kaiako Pūtaiao (for pūtaiao/science teachers in Māori-medium classrooms), and Te Pōkai Kākākura (for Māori school leaders; experienced, new and aspiring).

An unfinished foundation

It’s now more than 30 years since the beginning of the mass reawakening of cultural consciousness among Māori in New Zealand that began to turn the tide, and as New Zealanders we are wont to congratulate ourselves on the progress we’ve made in this respect.

Praise comes not just from within – New Zealand has garnered for itself something of an international reputation as a model of harmonious biculturalism.

Hineihaea is more qualified than most to comment. Has the Māori language truly emerged from marginalisation? Or is this perception simply relative to the suppression that other indigenous cultures have experienced? Hineihaea says that while increased awareness is something to be proud of, we haven’t yet finished constructing a solid foundation, far less built a nation that truly lives the idea of bilingualism.

“[We should ask ourselves:] ‘Is te reo Māori a living language?’ Some of us speak and use te reo Māori, and it is very much a living language in our lives. As a country, we have made, and continue to make, progress. There have been some good gains through public sector and private sector initiatives. Our understanding as a country, of Māori being our indigenous language and therefore having a special place in this land, has grown. The broadcasting and education sectors have played important roles in promoting te reo Māori.

“But to be able to describe te reo Māori as a ‘living language’ requires more than that – there is a long way to go! We are still basically a monolingual country. It is still possible to live here or visit this country without engaging with te reo Māori, other than at a very superficial level. We still have Māori-speaking children who have no real choice but to speak English outside of their classrooms, friends and whānau. We still ‘notice’ when Māori is being spoken, and people still feel isolated because they can’t understand our language. We still debate whether or not Māori should be ‘compulsory’ in schools. We have marae where English is spoken, or Māori feel that we have to speak English to avoid offending others. Until these things change, we still have a lot of work to do.

“The education sector in my view has a very important role to contribute to the regeneration of te reo Māori – it is not the saviour of te reo Māori, but it certainly has a big and important contribution to make.”

In Hineihaea’s view, the education sector contributes to this work in three main ways:

“Firstly,  to ensure that children who speak Māori (particularly in Māori-medium classrooms), speak Māori very well – sufficiently to support their thinking, and the development of cognition; sufficiently to support learning. So we need to resource the development of teacher language, given that teachers are often the main language role models for children; we also need to resource teacher development so that teachers understand the link between language and cognition.

“Secondly, to educate New Zealand children around the value of language, the importance of te reo Māori, and it’s link to culture and our uniqueness as a country – to value and normalise te reo Māori.”

“Thirdly, to provide children with access to learning te reo Māori, particularly Māori children, but supporting and expecting all children to learn the language as a communicative language.”

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