Te Reo Māori was systematically and violently removed from the indigenous people of this country. It’s decline and near extinction was only halted and reversed by major initiatives introduced in the 1970s and 80s, struggles that were led by Māori. In 1972 a petition was presented to Parliament to promote the language. That year, a Māori language day was introduced, and in 1975 this became a Māori language week. In 1978 the first officially bilingual school opened in Rūātoki in Te Urewera. In 1982 the first Kohanga Reo opened in Lower Hutt beginning the Kohanga Reo movement which has been credited with ensuring the next generation held onto the language by immersing young tamariki in the reo. Kura Kaupapa, full immersion schooling, followed. And the first Māori-owned Māori language radio station Te Reo o Pōneke went on air in 1983. In 1985, the Waitangi Tribunal heard the Te Reo Māori claim, which asserted that te reo was a taonga that the Crown was obliged to protect under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Māori was made an official language of New Zealand under the Maori Language Act 1987.
Every single one of these initiatives was fought for. It did not come easy, it did not come lightly and the resistance it faced was incredibly racist at every point. The systematic removal of the language was a conscious effort by colonisers to enforce assimilation to the English culture that was now the majority. Today, Te Reo Māori has had a resurgence but it remains at risk. Today, unlike in 1984 when Naida Glavish was demoted for saying Kia ora as a national telephone tolls operator and refusing to use only formal English greetings, today we hear Kia ora regularly in both formal and non-formal spaces. We hear it every night on the 6 o clock news. On bFM you’ll hear Ata mārie good morning, as well as ki ngā āhuatanga o Tangaroa i tēnei rā to introduce the surf report. On RadioNZ you hear all reporters signing off saying “ahau” which means I or me. As in, Ko Lillian Hanly ahau. In fact, this was the very reason for multiple BSA complaints against RNZ. So, while it has become commonplace to hear, some people still find it, funnily enough, alarming.
It’s here where our discussion today begins. Broadly speaking, as a broadcaster myself, I believe it is fairly straightforward to acknowledge not only an official language of Aotearoa NZ, but the indigenous language of this country. And, especially, as a Pākehā from this country, acknowledging the history and doing something about it to undo the damage which has been done, and continues to have effects. This is a personal discussion, but our identity as people’s of this country is personal, and is largely informed by the media. Who is it that we choose to be? And how are we going to achieve that.
Guyon Espiner is one of the presenters of Morning Report on Radio NZ. For some time now he has been weaving Te Reo into his work wherever he can. He starts the show with a mihi in the reo, and introduces himself as well. When he first started to do this, he got a lot of slack. People did not like it. At bFM we have also attempted this, and also received some slack. About a month ago, I happened to see Guyon in the supermarket and thought I’d ask whether he was interested in having a conversation on air about it all. In deferring to my tuakana, or older sibling, in the broadcaster scene I wanted to know more about his reasons for learning te reo Māori. Turns out, using te reo on the radio was a secondary priority to his life-long commitment to te ao Māori largely influenced by his family and his hope to communicate with his daughter in Te Reo.