Sitting in the public gallery with more than 100 others to watch Parliament pass Te Ture mō Te Reo Māori, Professor Rawinia Higgins felt overwhelmed, relieved, and happy.
“It was very emotional, as emotional as I get. Most people from the outside probably wouldn’t be able to see that. But I was happy. Very happy.”
As the chair of Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell’s independent expert advisory group, Rawinia (Ngāi Tūhoe) lived with the legislation for nearly 18 months, travelling the country to consult with iwi Māori to ensure the bill was fit for purpose, and then recommending a new model, Te Whare o te Reo Mauriora, in which the Crown and Māori share the responsibility for the revitalisation of te reo Māori.
After Cabinet and the Māori Affairs Committee adopted the bulk of the advisory group’s recommendations, Rawinia continued her engagement with iwi Māori so they were well positioned to select members of the new organisation Te Mātāwai once the bill had passed. Rawinia knew the passing of the bill was only one step, and now the challenge was to use this new structure for the betterment of te reo.
“One of the great opportunities of the new act is the ability to focus in on micro language planning through Te Mātāwai,” Rawinia says.
“It allows our people to take some leadership in the way they want to develop language strategies, and also for the Crown to support that through the Maihi Karauna and try to raise the consciousness and awareness of te reo Māori as part of our nation’s landscape.”
Next month her work on the bill will be honoured by Victoria University where she’s headed Te Kawa a Māui – School of Māori Studies, and been Assistant Vice Chancellor Māori Research since 2014, and is the newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori). She will receive one of two engagement awards at this year’s staff excellence awards.
Rawinia’s own Māori-language journey started as a child, growing up in Wellington, but largely immersed in her Tūhoe ki Pōneke whānau.
“Mum’s generation always spoke te reo, so I was always aware that te reo was spoken. Actually, I thought all Māori spoke Māori like my mother.”
Gradually she became more conscious that while she got the gist, when her aunties and uncles were talking, she didn’t fully understand te reo Māori.
“My point of consciousness around te reo Māori was a determination to want to learn te reo. We used to go to Ruātoki a lot, and everyone spoke Māori, and I felt that I was missing out, not being able to fully understand. So when I was 11, I asked my parents to let me go live with my kuia, Te Uru McGarvey, and I went to school at Ruātoki.”
Ruātoki School, officially the first bilingual school in the country, was in reality a full-immersion school, and Rawinia found herself in the unusual position of being in a remedial class for those who needed to learn how to speak Māori.
“My cousins have often teased me about being in the remedial class and now I’m a Māori Studies Professor.”
A Māori Studies Professor who has built up an impressive body of research around te reo Māori, and specifically, its normalisation.
“As the numbers show, Māori people live mostly outside of the language, and choose not to see the relevance of the language to themselves, because it appears to lack any relevance to society,” she said in her inaugural professorial lecture delivered last year.
“We must be cautious not to allow the marae to become the museum that houses our language. The majority of Māori no longer live at marae with permanence.”
She wants all New Zealanders to embrace the language, and believes the new act provides the structure that will encourage more positive attitudes towards te reo Māori through greater visibility. Rawinia encourages everyone to be a champion of te reo Māori in their whānau and communities.
“I remember going to get some petrol in Whakatāne, and a non-Māori person told me how much my petrol was in te reo Māori. He didn’t say it very fast, he was still learning, but he had taken the opportunity to practise. I was really quite moved by that. We should be supporting this kind of approach to encourage people to speak te reo.”
Ko ngā Takahanga Tuatahi i te Haerenga Reo
He Kupu Whakataki: E noho ana ki te taiwhanga tūmatanui i te taha o te 100 tāngata neke atu ki te mātakitaki i te whakaturetanga o Te Ture mō Te Reo Māori e ngā mema o te Whare Paremata, e hurihuri ana ngā whakaaro o te Ahorangi Rawinia Higgins he whakahirihiri te ngākau, he hari koa anō hoki.
“I pupuke mai ngā kare ā-roto, me kī, mōku ake he whakaputanga nui tērā. Ahakoa kāore pea tērā i tino kitea ā-kanohi mai e te nuinga. He harikoa au. Te mutunga kē mai.”
I roto i tāna mahi hei kaihautū mō te rōpū mātanga tohutohu motuhake a te Minita Whanaketanga Māori, a Te Ururoa Flavell, i noho tahi a Rawinia (Ngāi Tūhoe) me te ture hei hoa mōna tata ki te 18 marama te roa. Ka haere tahi ai rāua i te mata o te whenua ki te whiriwhiri kōrero me ngāi Māori kia hua ai e hāngai ana te ture ki tōna aronga matua, kātahi ka tūtohia e ia tētahi tauira hou, arā, ko Te Whare o te Reo Mauriora. E whakaatu ana i te haepapa ngātahi o te Karauna me ngāi Māori mō te whakarauoratanga o te reo Māori.
Nō muri i te whakaae atu a Te Rūnanga Kāwanatanga me Te Kōmiti Take Māori ki te nuinga o ngā tūtohinga a te rōpū tohutohu, i mahi tonu a Rawinia ki te whakapāpā atu ki ngā iwi Māori kia rite ai rātou ki te kōwhiri mema o te whakahaere hou a Te Mātāwai i muri i te whakaturetanga o te pire. I mōhio pai a Rawinia ko te whakaturetanga o te pire tētahi mahi kotahi anake, ā, ko te wero nui ināianei kia whakamahia tēnei hanganga hou hei whiwhi painga mō te reo.
“Ko te āhei ki te whakawhāiti i te titiro ki te whakatakoto mahere reo tikanga moroiti mā Te Mātāwai tētahi o ngā tino mea angitu,” te kōrero a Rawinia.
“Mā konei e āhei tō tātou iwi kia tū rangatira ai kia whai wāhi atu ki te āhua o te whakanaketanga o ngā rautaki reo, ā, ka āhei hoki te Karauna ki te tautoko i tērā mā te Maihi Karauna, kia ngana hoki ki te whakatairanga ake i te māramatanga me te mōhiotanga ki te reo Māori hei tohu whai mana i runga i te mata o tō tātou whenua.”
Hei te marama e tū mai nei ka whakanuia tāna mahi mō te pire e Te Whare Wānanga o Te Upoko o Ika, ko reira i ārahi ai ia i Te Kawa a Māui, kua noho hoki ia hei Iho Rangahau Māori mai i te tau 2014, ā, kātahi anō ka kopoua ia hei Tumu Ahurei. I tēnei tau ka whiwhi ia i tētahi o ngā tohu whakanui e rua mō te whakahihiri i ngā whakawhiwhinga tohu mā ngā kaimahi.
I tīmata a Rawinia ki te whai i tōna huarahi reo Māori i a ia e tamariki ana, e tipu ake ana i roto i Te Whanganui a Tara, otirā e rūmakina ana i roto i ngā āhuatanga o tōna whānau o Tūhoe ki Pōneke.
“I kōrero Māori te reanga o tōku Māmā i ngā wā katoa, nā reira au i mōhio ko te reo tērā e kōrerohia ana. Tūturu, i pōhēhē au he kōrero reo Māori ngā Māori katoa – pērā i taku whaea.”
Nāwai rā ka mārama ake ia ahakoa i te mau i a ia te ia o ngā kōrero, i ōna whaea kēkē, ōna pāpara hoki e kōrerorero ana, kāore i mārama pai ki a ia te reo Māori.
“Ko te hiringa mahara mōku e pā ana ki te reo Māori ko taku ngākau titikaha ki te ako i te reo. I hokihoki atu mātou ki Ruātoki, ka kōrero Māori ngā tāngata katoa i reira, ā, ki ōku whakaaro kua mahue au ki muri, nā taku kore āhei ki te kapo rawa i ngā kōrero. Nā, 11 ōku tau ka tono au ki ōku mātua kia noho au ki te taha o tōku kuia, a Te Uru McGarvey, ā, i kuraina au i Ruātoki.
Ko Te Kura o Ruātoki te kura reorua whai mana tuatahi o te motu, otirā tūturu nei he kura rūmaki kē, ā, he tauhou ki a Rawinia kia noho i roto i tētahi akomanga whakatika mā te hunga e matea ana kia ako i te reo Māori.
“Kua kaha whakatoi mai ōku whanaunga i a au mō taku noho ki taua akomanga whakatika, ā, ināianei he Ahorangi Akoranga Māori au.”
He Ahorangi Akoranga Māori hoki ia kua whakapau kaha ki te mahi rangahau mō te reo Māori, me tāna tino whai kia noho māori te reo.
“E ai ki ngā tatauranga, kei waho i te ao reo Māori te nuinga o ngā tāngata Māori e noho ana, ā, kua whiriwhiria kia kaua e aro ki te reo me tōna whai pānga ki a rātou, nā te mea ki tā rātou titiro kāore ōna pānga ki te ao”, tāna kī i roto i tana kauhau tuatahi hei Ahorangi i tērā tau.
“Me tūpato tātou kia kaua e tuku kia rite te marae ki te whare pupuri taonga e whata noa iho ai tō tātou reo. Kāore te nuinga o ngāi Māori i te noho ki te marae.”
Kei te pīrangi ia kia tauawhitia te reo e ngā tāngata katoa o Aotearoa, ā, kei te whakapono ia mā te ture hou e toko ake ai te hanganga hei akiaki i te whakaaro pai ki te reo Māori mā te tino kitea nuitia. E akiaki ana a Rawinia i ngā tāngata katoa kia tū hei toa mō te reo Māori i roto i ō rātou whānau, i ō rātou hapori hoki.
“Kei te maumahara au i tētahi wā ka haere au ki te tiki penehīni i Whakatāne, ā, ka kōrero Māori mai tētahi Tauiwi i reira i te utu mō te penehīni. Kāore i tino tere tana kōrero, i te ako tonu ia, engari i whai wāhi ia ki te parakatihi. I tino rongo taku wairua i tērā. Me tautoko tātou tēnei momo mahi hei akiaki tangata ki te kōrero i te reo.”