Te reo Māori must die before it's saved

The head of te reo and tikanga for the country’s third largest iwi, Ngāti Kahungunu, is on a mission to save the language of his ancestors.

Jeremy Tātere MacLeod organised the third Te Reo ki Tua symposium, the only Māori language conference in the country, held in Hastings in August. There, he rallied some of the country’s top language exponents to help inspire his people to continue the battle for the Māori language.

“The theme this year is, ‘Karawhiti Tauā: Deploy the language army’,” MacLeod told Native Affairs. “We are saying, Kahungunu it’s time to unite, it’s time to go to war.”

It’s a far cry from the state of the reo within Kahungunu boundaries more than a decade ago. MacLeod says te reo was hardly spoken and the dialect was lost.

“I’d say it’s increased but not to a level where it’s safe to assume it’s thriving.

“There are pros and cons in language revitalization. In my opinion, the language must first die before a tribe will put the effort in to save it.”

Māori language exponent Sir Tīmoti Karetu, also of Ngāti Kahungunu descent, says the survival of the language is in the hands of the youth as well as the people who desire to learn regardless of whether or not they are Māori.

“If they speak our language then acknowledge them. Many Māori don’t speak it nor do they praise those who do. Give (our language) to those who want it, I say.”