Monday, July 26, 2010

Can Te Reo Save Maori?

Tariana TuriaIn a speech today marking NZ Maori Language Week, Tariana Turia (co-leader of the Maori Party) asked: what will it take to revitalise the maori language?
"In 1972, 70,000 maori were fluent speakers of their language. Today there are less than 20,000. Te reo Maori (maori language) is in my mind 'food for the soul'...the sustenance that feeds our spiritual strength, cultural competency, identity. It is the fuel that drives us on, providing the energy and the momentum to search for a greater understanding. Our language can help restore ourselves to the essence of who we are. It is said that the limits of our language are the limits of our world. Conversely confidence and competence in te reo Maori opens the door to the wider horizons of our world - providing access to greater knowledge about our ways of seeing and being in the world."
That being said, with maori comprising 51% of our prison population (@ March 2010) but only 9% of the country's population, could it be argued that a competent grasp of their own language - and thus, according to Turia, a grasp of their own identity - might reverse this trend?
Perhaps a solution (albeit simplistic) is for maori tribes to invest wisely the fruits of their Waitangi Tribunal settlements, into education and self-esteem programmes for maori youth. This would mean maori working FOR maori with maori MONEY, maori DIRECTION, maori PROGRAMMES...NO government money, NO fuel for the backlash over endless pay-outs, NO forcefeeding of te reo to the entire population, NO reason for any white negativity. Quite literally, it would be a chance for maori to put their money where their mouths are.
On Breakfast TV this morning (and all this week too), every name on the weather map had been changed to a maori one: the presenter even delivered an entire forecast in maori. Now that's all very well for the less than 20,000 fluent speakers, but it smacks of tokenism, pandering to a minority...and offers more confusion than assistance with the advancement of the language.
For maori language to not only survive but thrive requires a major commitment of time, effort and money...from maori. I feel that from this would flow great improvements in NZ society - a decrease in crime, an increase in employment, an easing of racial tension which collectively will head us more positively toward the all-inclusive nation we claim to be.
But, just like someone quitting smoking, maori have to WANT to do it for themselves...
PS: 21 October 2010 - Despite $220-million being spent on it annually (!!!) the maori language is dieing. The warning cannot be more clear. Use it or lose it.
PS: 21 October 2010 - A maori academic says the responsibility for the language's survival rests with maori.
PS: 01 November 2010 - Today's Dominion Post"Put health before beaches" says Pita Sharples. Finally someone in the Maori Party has the right priorities! God, vindication feels good!

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