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Maori immersion communities – the saviour of the Maori language?

Jul 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Diversity, Featured Article, Features

Ms Erena Tapiata teaches in the Junior Department of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna.

LISTENING to children’s chatter as they sound out letters and words,  watching their enthusiasm as they participate in activity games, sitting in a classroom surrounded by art work – you know it is a well run junior programme.

The only difference being that all communication is in Maori.

Erena Tapiata teaches this Year One and Two class at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna, which is located in the affluent seaside hamlet of Seatoun, in Wellington’s eastern suburbs.

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna is the only stand alone total immersion school in the Wellington region.

The school philosophy of Te Aho Matua focuses on the child and the learning is triangular between the whanau, the kura (school) and the tamaiti (child).

“The whanau at the school is supportive and very passionate about te reo” says Ms Tapiata.

What are the some of the reasons behind Wai 262, released in October 2010, which indicated that te reo was in peril?

One of the significant findings of the report was that the diminishing proportion of younger speakers means that the older speakers passing away are simply not being replaced.

The Wai 262 Report was largely based on research conducted by Dr Winifred Bauer who is a teaching fellow at Te Kawa a Maui (Maori Studies Department) at Victoria University.

Dr Winifred Bauer

Dr Bauer, pictured left,  found statistics demonstrated that the number of people speaking Maori is increasing, but it is not increasing at the same rate as the growth in Maori population. In essence, the density of Maori speakers was actually on the decline.

Dr Bauer believes the future path to the revitalisation of the Maori language is to build up resources in established Maori speaking areas.

Although descended from British settlers, Dr Bauer spent time in predominantly Maori speaking communities growing up during the late 1950s and 60s.

“When I lived in Kawakawa (Bay of Islands) there was quite strong Maori being spoken in the hinterland. I would hear Maori being spoken at the bus stop and in other public places,” recalled Dr Bauer.

Even though Dr Bauer is a linguist and learnt Maori a long time ago, she does not call herself a fluent speaker of Maori because she does not belong to a Maori speaking community.

Total immersion schools are one avenue that ensures the Maori language is being maintained by young people and is spoken in a community.

Mr Rawiri Wright, pictured right,  is the acting tumuaki (principal) at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna.

Most of the children who enter this kura kaupapa have come from a kohanga reo.

When a child is enrolled it is a prerequisite they have sufficient knowledge of te reo to be able to operate effectively, at whatever level they are at.

“The main differences between Maori language schools and kura kaupapa Maori is that we endeavour to teach everything in Maori, apart from English, Spanish and French” says Mr Wright.

Seventy pupils (March 2011) attend the school ranging in age from new entrants to Year 13. While currently all children at the school have Maori ancestry, there have been children without Maori ancestry who attended previously, but were speakers of Maori.

There are three designated places where English is allowed to be spoken on the school grounds. They are in the office, the staffroom and in the English language room.

LEARNING: Barbara Zerzouri conferences a Year 11 pupil at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna

Barbara Zerzouri teaches in the wharekura (secondary) part of the school and is pakeha.

“I know a little Maori, probably more than most pakeha,” she said, when asked about her knowledge of te reo.

Pupils at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna begin to learn English as a subject in Year Nine.

One of the aspects about teaching in the whakekura Ms Zerzouri enjoys is that the pupils have the right to be educated in their own culture.

“They can just be ‘Maori’. You can live it and breathe it at this school,” says Ms Zerzouri.

One barrier to learning Ms Zerzouri has noticed, when teaching in the wharekura, is that year nine pupils do lack experience using text as it has been unlikely they will have ever seen a couple of novels in Maori.

“There are not enough texts, never enough money and resources. There are also not enough people in the home speaking Maori.”

Herein lies a crucial missing link in the revitalisation of Maori language, which is the lack of Maori being spoken in homes and in the wider community.

Until the 1940s Maori was the dominant language in Maori homes and communities. With the onset of urban drift, Maori families found themselves living in predominantly non Maori communities.(See accompanying story).

The 1980s saw the period of revitalisation of Maori language with the subsequent establishment of Maori television and iwi radio stations.

Dr Bauer believes the proliferation of Maori language on one level, has been a smoke screen that has not addressed the real issues of how to preserve and revitalise a language.

“We have a lot of window dressing” says Dr Bauer.

“It is much easier to pressure the government into putting funds into broadcasting than it is to persuade Maori parents to speak Maori to their children.”

Dr Bauer is well aware that results from her findings are hard for the Maori community to accept.

“I knew this was not going to be popular. If you come at it from a linguist’s point of view, you only keep a language if you have got enough people to speak it to,” says Dr Bauer.

Fellow academic, Dr Rangi Mataamua, expressed his concern on the Maori language crisis on Kathryn Ryan’s Nine to Noon Radio New Zealand programme in late January.

Dr Mataamua has stated that by 2050 te reo will be gone unless issues are addressed immediately.  He thinks New Zealanders have lulled themselves into a false sense of security about the true state of Maori language.

It is Dr Mataamua’s belief that funding Maori language has become commercial, and resources need to be directed at communities that actually do speak Maori. He admits this theory will not go down well with institutions such as Maori Broadcasting and, to a lesser extent, kohanga reo and kura kaupapa.

“Many people make their living off the language games. There is an issue when the language becomes the secondary factor,” says Dr Mataamua.

Maori children and pakeha children now have the choice of attending kohanga reo, kura kaupapa Maori and bilingual classes. However, there was a bleak period in New Zealand education when Maori children were strapped for speaking Maori at school.

GOOD ADVICE: Kathy Eketone is an academic advisor at Whitireia Polytechnic.

Ronald Eketone (71) has recounted his experiences to his family of growing up in Te Kuiti. His experiences, recounted by his daughter Kathy Eketone, (right) are not untypical of what happened in the 1940s in New Zealand.

“Some people have been traumatised by this. Ronald is not like that, he is a social character,” says Ms Eketone.

The experiences of Mr Eketone illustrate the point that living in Maori speaking communities is where he learnt and maintained Maori.

“At school there was no Maori language, but it never stopped him” explained Ms Eketone.

One part of Mr Eketone’s life that would have fostered his te reo was the time he spent living in a marae community.  Mr Eketone’s father used to work for the Maori King and would help out with events at Ngaruawahia.

Later on Mr Eketone became a qualified drainlayer. He moved to Paremata for better job prospects. He developed friendships through work, for most part his colleagues were Maori and he would speak to whanau and friends in Maori.

When Ms Eketone was growing up her father would speak to her and her six brothers in Maori.

“Basically the dialogue in the household was Maori. When we weren’t doing what we were asked to he would translate into English” says Ms Eketone.

“My father was a very practical man who would give us directions in places such as the beach, or playing in the hills.”

Not only is it necessary for a language to be used in everyday life, language is a tool to get things done.

“We use a language that is going to serve a utilitarian purpose” says Dr Bauer.

Dr Bauer believes that communicating is more important than just wanting to preserve the language.

“What causes language loss is economic necessity and if you cannot earn your living in te reo you will not choose to speak te reo,” says Dr Bauer.

“For language revitalisation the human resource is the most important resource. Commerce is fundamental, there needs to be skilled plumbers who can actually speak te reo.”

In a Maori speaking community the next tier would involve government services. this would necessitate a service, such as the staff at WINZ, communicating in Maori.

Ms Eketone’s mother, Cecilia, did not speak Maori in the home. Mrs Eketone understood Maori but would respond in English.

“My mother was staunch in her belief that you had to have a good education to earn a good living,” says Ms Eketone.

There are other indigenous populations where the native language has been overridden by English.

Dr Bauer thinks the reason why the Welsh have been successful retaining their ancient Celtic language, Cymraeg, is because the communities that resided in the mountains were used as the hub of the revitalisation movement.

“The Welsh had a greater incentive to retain their language compared to the Irish as the border between Wales and England is not concrete, whereas Ireland is an island and has a physical identity” observed Dr Bauer.

“Maori have a physical identity and this may be a reason why there is less incentive to preserve the la

The largest numbers of pupils enrolled at bilingual and immersion schools peaked at 30,000 more than 10 years ago. (See accompanying story) With the findings of the Wai 262 report in what direction are kura kaupapa Maori headed?

Mr Wright previously was the head of the association of kura which is known as Te Runanga Nui O Nga Kura Kaupapa Maori.

“It is the political head, I guess, of the organisation and the job is to advocate for Kura Kuapapa Maori” says Mr Wright.

“It is our view that the government has a responsibility to properly support and resource our schooling option and that it is the runanga’s job to encourage the government to do just that.”

When Mr Wright was asked his opinion on Dr Bauer’s findings, which stated that only 3.5 percent of Maori children currently attend kura he replied:“Our statistics come from the Ministry of Education and according to latest figures that I saw told that we had 10 percent of the (Maori) school age population.”

Senior pupils at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna are well aware of the state of the Maori language.

“Students have written and delivered speeches on the Maori language crisis, especially after listening to the interview with Dr Bauer and Dr Mataamua,” says wharekura kaiako (secondary teacher) Ms Zerzouri.

Mr Wright is well aware that Maori language is reaching a crisis point.

“We cannot kid ourselves, the language is under threat. The two major contributors to the wellbeing and to the survival of the Maori language are education and broadcasting,” says Mr Wright.

Mr Wright is in agreement with Dr Bauer and Dr Mataamua in regard to the fact that they know the impetus to revitalise Maori needs to come from Maori speaking communities.

“It is not something that can be foist upon any community. A willingness to be part of the Maori language survival struggle has to come from the ground up. Of course we would like to see the growth of more kura,” says Mr Wright.

The current state of Maori language in New Zealand is a significant issue and one that is hugely sensitive. Revitalisation of the language since the 1980s, official recognition of Maori, the rise of Maori broadcasting will have given Maori communities greater confidence in the past few decades.

Last year’s Wai 262 report would have been a setback to numerous people. For many Maori people there is a strong link between being Maori and speaking Maori.

It will be with interest to observe what the groundswell will be from people who are passionate about Maori language.

Back at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Nga Mokopuna staff and pupils gather in a classroom to end the school day with a karakia. It is a time to reflect on what has happened during the day and a time to farewell their kaiako.

“Ka kite ano” they call to each other as they collect up their school bags and head out to the school grounds with a spring in their step.

A history of Maori language development

IN 1913, 90 percent of Maori school children were native Maori speakers.

In the 1920s prominent politician and lawyer, Sir Apirana Ngata, began to lecture Maori groups about the need to promote Maori language use in homes and communities, while also promoting English language education for Maori in schools.

Maori remained the dominant language in Maori homes and communities in the 1930s.

The 1940s and 1950s saw the gradual decline of Maori language as Maori families were ‘pepper potted’ into non Maori communities.

In 1961 the Hunn Report described the Maori language as a relic of ancient Maori life.

During the 1970s concern was raised by Maori urban groups. A New Zealand Council for Educational Research national study found that only 18-20 percent of Maori are fluent speakers.

The 1980s saw the revitalisation of Maori language.

-1982  kohanga reo was established in an attempt to teach Maori language to preschoolers.

-1985 Over 6000 children attend 416 kohanga reo.

-1987 Maori declared an official language.

-1989 The Education Amendment Act provided formal recognition for kura kaupapa (Maori language immersion schools) and wananga (Maori tertiary institutions).

In 1990 six kura kaupapa were established.

In 1993 numbers of children attending kohanga reo peaked with the enrolment of 14,000 preschoolers.

During 1999 total numbers of pupils in bilingual and immersion schools peaked at 30,000, which included 18.6 percent of all Maori school pupils.

In 2009 the percentage of Maori school pupils attending bilingual and immersion schools had dropped to 15.2 percent.

October 2010 The Waitangi Tribunal report 262 states that te reo Maori is approaching a crisis point.

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