It’s never too late to learn te reo Māori

Reflecting on the importance of te reo Māori in contemporary life helps ensure we can learn and practice te reo Māori without carrying the baggage of shame that was inflicted upon our ancestors who dared to speak their mother tongue, writes Dr Jade Le Grice

Language gives important form to cultural knowledge and ways of understanding the world – te reo Māori, much like languages across Te Moana Nui a Kiwa (the wider Pacific) – is integrative and rich in wisdom and meaning. Those who have expertise across the domains of language, cultural knowledge and practices, are treasures to us working to develop the discipline of psychology to be more culturally responsive to us as Māori and Pasifika – in research and applied contexts.

These systems of meaning, sustained by our ancestors across generations and Pacific navigation – way back before colonisation – provide a counterpoint to the usual deficit portrayal of Māori and Pacific psychologies. Revitalising our languages and the knowledges they spark, generate, and infuse - and bringing them into a contemporary context where they are valued, relevant and important is vital to our psychological flourishing as Māori and Pasifika peoples.

Given our colonial context as Māori in Aotearoa, where earlier generations were chastised and hit by colonial educators for speaking Māori, or derided by assumptions that our language was racially inferior, many of us have not had easy access to these resources, and they may not have been normalised as a constant presence throughout our life. It is important to reflect not only on the importance of te reo Māori in contemporary life, but the unique processes and practices whānau, hapū, iwi, and community groups are engaging in, to ensure we can learn and practice te reo Māori without carrying the baggage of shame, or whakama, that was inflicted upon our ancestors who dared to speak their mother tongue.

As a late learner of te reo Māori who is still far from fluency, I have learnt it is never too late to learn, appreciate, and come to new insights and understanding in contexts of encouragement and support. However small the learning may seem, never underestimate the possibility for it to reverberate across domains of everyday life – and teach us new and innovative ways of understanding the world, and our embodied, human location within it.

Te reo Māori is hugely significant to my work as a Māori lecturer and producer of knowledge. My research attends to the ways that Māori sexual, reproductive, and whānau realities are informed by Māori and western systems of knowledge, and ways of knowing. Words, proverbs, and stories contain clear anchor points for shared systems of meaning, assumptions, and sets of practices we draw upon, evoke and inculcate when articulating our experience or perspectives on matters of importance. Language is an important window to our worlds, and it is through te reo Māori that the dynamics of whānau, whakapapa, wairua, tapu, and whenua ki te whenua, are brought into being as shared systems of meaning that structure and inform how we, as Māori, relate to lands, rivers and people of significance in our lives, and why we might decide to bear children outside the realm of conventional western common-sense.

Being supported by my hapū at Pakanae and Motukaraka, and the broader Hokianga region, to learn the richness of our language and cultural ways of being and consider how this may inform solutions to modern day challenges has been a gift.

Alongside colleagues, Shiloh Groot and Sam Manuela, we have supported students Julia Hyde, Jessee Fia’Ali’I, and Chloe Moore to compile two resources of Māori and Pasifika psychology scholarship. These resources speak to the innovative work of Māori and Pasifika researchers along with allied researchers in collaborative relationships who are working and synthesising domains of indigenous and western psychological knowledge.

The compilation highlights the validity of psychological knowledge and practice that centres Māori and Pasifika realities and domains of understanding – as they are informed by key concepts in the language and infinite wisdom of our ancestors. Together, the two documents provide an interconnected overview and deep level of insight into the specific areas that comprise indigenous psychologies in Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. We hope these resources continue to encourage and promote culturally responsive psychological research and practice with Māori and Pasifika people – that attends to the vital links between language, psychologies and people.

The launch, a celebration of Māori and Pasifika scholarship that centres Māori and Pasifika knowledges anchored in our Indigenous languages, will be held in the foyer of the School of Psychology reception, in the University of Auckland Science Centre, at 23 Symonds Street, 4pm, on the 12th of September. Nau mai, haere mai!

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