Preserving and promoting culture and language are vital for the strength of Indigenous communities, say two New Zealand ANZSOG alums who work with Māori people to achieve their aspirations.
This week is Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) in Aotearoa/New Zealand, a chance to recognise the unique cultural legacy embodied in the language and make it an essential part of New Zealand life.
While Australian governments are yet to sign a formal treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the New Zealand Government’s relations with Māori have been shaped by the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840.
The Treaty recognises the existence and rights of Māori people and since the 1960s has played a central role in guiding relations between them and the Crown, with the Waitangi Tribunal established in 1975 to oversee redress for breaches of the Treaty.
Te Puni Kōkiri (the Ministry for Māori Development) means ‘a group of people moving forward together’.
Mel King, manager ministerial and business support at Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK), is an ANZSOG Executive Master of Public Administration graduate whose work contributes to ‘Māori succeeding as Māori’ - a key vision for TPK.
Ms King joined the public service as a 16-year old and has worked in a range of roles. She says she stays in the public service to help people, and gains satisfaction from the positive impact ideas and policies generated by TPK have on the lives of Māori. She says TPK is immensely proud of its results, and the way it works positively with other departments to ensure services delivered to Māori recognise and respond to their needs.
“We are in a unique and privileged position where we can collaborate at the highest levels of government level to influence policy making, but also use our connections with local Whānau, Iwi and Hapū (extended families and tribes).
“Our reach into the communities we serve is purposeful, valued and respected at all times.”
Ms King noted that several Iwi have settled past treaty grievances with the Crown and are significant contributors to the economy.
TPK’s responsibilities include monitoring of Te Taura Whiri I te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission), which aims to encourage diversity and the use of te reo Māori (the Māori language) among departments, by giving speakers the opportunity to use their language at work.
“Part of succeeding as Māori is to be able to speak te reo Māori without fear of reprisal and to encourage the use of Māori in day-to-day life, and TPK is modelling that in our workplace.”
Ms King said that TPK had a strong Māori-influenced work culture that supports staff and their Whānau, and was a reason why staff chose to remain at TPK.
“We acknowledge all our staff are members of a Whānau first – this does not stop when they start their working day and TPK proactively encourages the speaking of te reo Māori in the workplace as well as other cultural practices that enable our staff to celebrate who they are – Māori succeeding as Māori,” she said.
Kiritina Johnstone, group manager Te Reo Māori at the NZ Ministry of Education, joined the public service in 2004 after working as a teacher and said her career had provided her with fantastic opportunities to advance Māori education and culture.
Ms Johnstone’s unit of the Ministry of Education is responsible for ensuring that all early learning centres and schools which want to teach in te reo Māori are provided with quality resources and support to do so.
The New Zealand government is consulting on its latest Māori language strategy to support the revitalisation of te reo Maori and promote its inter-generational transmission. Schools are a major part of that and - although learning te reo Māori is not compulsory - schools have a responsibility to support students who want to learn.
“Our immersion education system, where students are taught everything through te reo Māori and within a Māori cultural context, is world leading and we have a responsibility to ensure this continues,” she said.
“We also need to ensure that all students in our education system have opportunities to learn te reo Māori as well. To do this we are developing learning opportunities that will ensure every teacher in our education system can use te reo Māori correctly every day and feel confident to use the language in their classrooms.”
She said the language was also increasingly used within government and across our public service agencies.
“It is used in different ways in different departments. We have some offices which use greetings every day through signage and greetings, we have others supporting their employees to actively learn the language and you have other areas, such as her group, who will often use the language in their everyday interactions. What is important is that use of the language is being normalised.”
Te reo Māori has always been an important part of Ms Johnstone’s life. She has a good understanding of te reo Māori, and says she was lucky to have four grandparents who were native speakers of the language which gave her a strong grounding in her cultural heritage.
She said her grandparents’ generation were punished for speaking te reo Māori at school. This influenced the language they used with their children (her grandparents) which contributed to the demise of the language itself. For many Māori people these pressures meant that the chain of transmission was damaged and fluency in the language was lost.
“Language and culture are incredibly important to the strength of the community, and to our identity. These three things – identity, language and culture are vital for addressing social issues,” she said.
“Maori language week is one week in the year, but it is something that is growing in strength as more people choose to become involved, and is contributing to the revival of the language.”
Find out more about Te Wiki o te Reo Māori here