Time to plan for a bilingual New Zealand

Ahead of us now lies a promising pathway if we can turn this week’s enthusiastic dreams into a plan with a chance of success, writes John McCaffery

The passion and enthusiasm shown this week for all New Zealanders to have the opportunity to learn te reo Māori is heartening indeed. Equally heartening was the Prime Minister’s announcement to Wellington High School students on Monday that the Government is committed to having te reo as a core part of all ECE, primary and intermediate schools as soon as possible.

This time perhaps we have finally turned the corner, to the deep appreciation and harikoa of those of us who set the spark that lit the fire and started the modern revival of te reo by establishing Te Reo Māori Society (TRM) at Victoria University in 1970. Te Reo Māori went on to establish Māori Language Day and Māori Language Week, and opened the locked door to broadcasting.

As Māori Language Week draws to a close, we need to remember the very many who struggled for Māori language visions and goals to be accepted by the nation, but have not lived to see it come to pass. There have been many and I hope they will forgive me for a moment for focusing on one such rangatira who died in August 2014, the TRM president of the early 1970s, Rawiri Rangitauira, whose famous words to the Ministers of Māori Affairs and Education in 1974 have this week become prophetic in the struggle: “It is important to ensure that the status of Māori is raised in the eyes of both Māori and Pakeha as it is the status of the language that governs people's desire to learn and speak it.”

It was Rawiri Rangitauira (Ngati Whakaue Te Arawa) and Whaimutu Dewes (Ngati Porou, Ngāti Rangitihi Te Arawa) who fronted and argued the largely unknown Te Reo Māori Society Broadcasting Petition at Parliament in 1978 and led the way for struggles through to 2005 for Māori Radio and Television rights. Later, in partnership with Radio Upoko o te Ika Wellington, they established Ngā Kaiwhakapumau i te Reo, the Wellington Māori Language Board and, with the NZ Māori Council, took the struggle all the way to the Privy Council in England and won.

With the rapidly growing non-Māori support and numbers of speakers we can become the truly bilingual bicultural nation promised to Māori in signing the Treaty of Waitangi 148 years ago.

They also led legal challenges to the 1986 Waitangi Tribunal Language Claim which eventually established Māori as an official National Language along with the Māori Language Commission and Māori Television. Rawiri, together with his wife Cathy Dewes, (Whai's sister), established language rejuvenation through Māori Medium education. The fact the Rangitauira -Dewes whānau have never publicly told these stories themselves, means that the scope of Rawiri and Whai's significant foundation legal and constitutional and work has largely gone unnoticed and recognised. This week Rawiri would have been delighted to hear the pledge of our PM, and we are proud to honour and remember him; Tihei mauri mate.

So that is the past: Ahead of us now lies an exciting and promising pathway if we can turn this week’s enthusiastic hopes and dreams into plan that has a chance of success.

I say this because the struggle for the language over the last 48 years is littered with the wreckage of great sounding goals and objectives that were floated and promoted, but, without support from solid evidence-based implementation strategies from successive governments and bureaucracies, had little chance of success. In my opinion, almost all implementation policies were geared to meet the Crown’s interpretation of their minimal legal commitment to the language and to the success of Māori in education, but not a cent more.

International and Aotearoa-based research from 1978 onwards tells us there are three essentials to achieve intergenerational transmission of language. Firstly is use of the language in an empowering educational context where Māori is the medium of instruction for at least 50 percent of the time at school. Secondly, the teaching must be carried out in well-resourced and supported Kura Kaupapa, Kura a Iwi or designated schools and units by well paid, well trained, pedagogically skilled fluent speakers of te reo Māori. This requires teacher education Māori Medium programmes, teacher training, in-service, refresher work, and upskilling to be the real priority. We know this is expensive, but without it Māori will not be able to sustain raising their own tamariki in te reo and English to levels that will enable today’s tamariki to raise the next generation likewise.

The Māori Medium tertiary teacher education system outside the three Wānanga has no capability to do any of this and unless the Government urgently funds and demands quality skilled graduates of us, not a lot will change. This is why Professor Timote Karetu dismisses the current education provisions for the language, and those proposed, as hopelessly inadequate. At the same time, we cannot doubt the enormous commitment of these tertiary Māori departments who have been universally experiencing underfunding, staffing and programme cutbacks and have to operate under Pākehā-determined priorities, programmes and philosophies.

This must change to match the Ministry of Education’s fine goals which say: Māori must be permitted and supported to experience education as Māori, and language culture and identity is at the heart of this change now needed.

Thirdly, schools cannot do it alone. Ngai Tahu leads the way and Ngati Kahungungu programmes are showing how it can be established well by other iwi. There must also be significant state resourcing for Te Matawai Māori language strategies that whanau, iwi and hapu can initiate to ensure te reo is well supported in homes and within Māori communities.

So what then are the chances that this time there will be a sustainable achievable plan implemented in genuine partnership with Māori? In my opinion, the research evidence is clear but currently unpalatable to government. It is now evident that if decisions are left in the hands of well-meaning but ill-informed politicians, government and Treasury bean counters, and bureaucracies, both Māori and Pākehā, many New Zealanders will be feeling great about our national languages, cultures and identities – but Māori will be left wondering where theirs went. These Pākehā-dominated structures have sought for generations to suppress and control te reo with alternative ideologies and philosophies show that any plan to develop and control te reo without empowering Māori leadership in partnership, will see similar outcomes.

This time we must make hard political decisions to achieve the visions and goals the 1972 Petitioners, that the courts upheld and now the nation has joined. We must first ensure tamariki Māori become fluent in numbers great enough to raise the next generations in te reo. With the rapidly growing non-Māori support and numbers of speakers we can become the truly bilingual bicultural nation promised to Māori in signing the Treaty of Waitangi 148 years ago. It’s time. Mauri ora tātou.

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