Sunday, December 11, 2016

Language Revitalization: A Fulfilling Journey of Unity Shared from New Zealand


Guided Reflection

The day we travelled to the island of New Zealand, an 8 point earthquake was reported on the south island, two hours drive of Christchurch.  This would start our journey, “Mother Earth would remind us she is still here”, stronger than ever.  A statement one of the Māori woman would say to us on the ninth day we were visiting her school and a 5.7 recorded second earthquake would hit. 
My family sending me off with love

For fourteen days from November 13th to November 26th, 2016 we collaborated and shared with our Indigenous brothers and sisters of the Māori clans on the Island of New Zealand in the spirit of unity.  This opportunity was to assist us, on Turtle Island, in furthering and strengthening our plans, strategies, and goals towards self and nationhood determination through the revitalization of language and culture.  We attended the 7th Biennial International Indigenous Research Conference 2016 (IIRC) at the University of Auckland, hosted by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. After the conference, we flew to Christchurch in south New Zealand to tour four Māori schools, the Rāpaki Marae, a tribal marae of our host Rewi Couch; and one of eight tribes who own and operate the NGĀI TAHU POUNAMU Corporation. A corporation we would spent a day learning about and also end up being guests on their live radio show, TAHU FM.  We gained so much knowledge, guidance, enlightenment, and empowerment from our fourteen (14) day tour with the Māori Peoples of New Zealand.  They are years ahead of us in language and cultural revitalization but they are so willing and open to share their knowledge, lessons, trial and tribulations towards success ~ their journey towards self determination through the blood of their ancestors and their “mana”, their chiefs, authority, leaders, these are their future generations, their “mana” (noun).

When you meet a Māori person, they welcome you in a Powhiri ceremony into their space, their home, their people through song and ancestral mana.  They will recite to you who they belong too, their ancestors (they all trace their descent from Paikea), their tribe, and which one of the seven canoes their ancestors arrived on from Hawaii so many hundreds of years ago, long before European settlers arrived.  Then, they will welcome you individually through a significant gesture called the hongi.  During the Hongi, we touch forehead to forehead and noses together then breath in the breath of life, the first breath and we become part of their whanau, part of their extended family.  
A selfie while my professor doesn't notice

There is so much to share and I’m not sure where to begin, this has been a dream of mine, to go to New Zealand as a student or teacher and this journey is another Bucket List achieved.  I had heard for years of the excellent work the Māori peoples have been doing in relation to Language Nests and Immersion schools; however, my experience there, far exceeded my expectations.  As a result, I would like to return, as a resident, to learn more from them and hopefully bring back the knowledge and implement some of their programs/initiatives and make them reality, here in Canada.  I understand now what my professor and relation Marilyn Shirt had been trying to implement on our homelands, to make our language and culture our life again, the key to resurgence of Indigenous nation(s).

7th Biennial International Indigenous Research Conference

From November 15-18th, 2016 we attended the IIR Conference in Auckland, NZ and staying in one of their maraes on campus.  This alone was a great experience of unity and ᐊᐧᐦᑯᐦᑐᐃᐧᐣ wahkohtowin (kinship) as this was traditionally a place where the Māori stayed and many events are held.  As we slept there, we slept among their ancestors on the walls. the carvings are their ancestors and many who are part of a marae can recite their ancestral history and connections as people.  As we learned, each marae is unique and different depending on the tribe(s) the people derive from.  We would later in the week, visit our host Rewi Couch’s tribal Marae outside of southern New Zealand’s city of Christchurch.

During the conference there were many sessions and research on languages, language revitalization, social structures, effects or colonial influence and/or genocide, environmental effects and influences on the peoples and the world.  Like us, Indigenous Peoples in Canada, they share the same teachings that we are the land; therefore affected by the changes to the ecosystems of Mother Earth.  As was stated by the Keynote Speaker, Linda Tuhiwah Smith, during the opening event:
“We do research to save the planet, we do research to save the spirit of the Will, and we research to save ourselves.  We deal with a world in academia that likes to measure, as a result, it affects us in Indigenous terms but can be challenging…we are up against a “system” that has so much rules that work against us.  How do we decolonize from it?  Indigenous Peoples are their own system but yet the most researched in the world, it’s like a sexual violation to a peoples.  Break the rules of the game because we were never meant to win that colonial game, it was never set up for us to win!  Disrupt the system!  Politically we need to continue to break the rules and disrupt, when we affect change, collectively, we disrupt the system.”

As I attended many of the sessions, other Indigenous Peoples internationally were also presenters and Keynote Speakers at the event including many from Turtle Island, including Australian Aborigines, Finland Sami, Philippines, Hawaii, and many others Indigenous Peoples that the Hosts were quoted in saying there were hundreds of tribes present.  They were all collaborating and sharing their research.  At times, I was not able to decide which sessions to attend, it was challenging and sometimes frustrating but a conference I would return too in a heartbeat.  One of the key events I quite enjoyed was the announcement of the completion of their Māori Report : for Tāmaki Makaurau 2016.  This report completed by the Independent Māori Statutory Board will assist and guide organizations, governments, businesses etc.. in the advancement of the Māori peoples from all areas of cultural identity to economic success etc..

As the report shows on pages 14-15, The 30 year Māori Plan for Tāmaki Makaurau is as follows:
This Plan sets out Māori aspirations and actions for enabling full Māori participation and contribution to Tāmaki Makaurau for the next 30 years.


 The Plan sets out a 30-year aspirational vision which was developed with the contribution of Māori
across Tāmaki Makaurau. Its vision is:
Te Pai me te Whai Rawa o Tāmaki Māori – Healthy and Prosperous Tāmaki Māori.

Māori Values

 Five core Māori values underpin the Plan. The values reflect Māori worldviews and practices and are
intended to guide Tāmaki Makaurau policies and plans so that Māori might participate in Tāmaki Makaurau as Māori and in a way that is meaningful and constructive. The values are:
  • Whanaungatanga  – relationships and connections;
  • Rangatiratanga  – autonomy and leadership;
  • Manaakitanga  –protection and caring;
  • Wairuatanga  – spirituality and identity;
  • Kaitiakitanga  – guardianship and the natural environment.

Key Directions

 The Plan’s Key Directions reflect the overarching goals or aspirations that Māori want for their own iwi,
organisations, communities, and whānau. They are underpinned by the Māori values to ensure that
Māori worldviews are embedded and integral to the Plan. The Key directions are:
  • Develop vibrant communities;
  • Enhance leadership and participation;
  • Improve quality of life;
  • Promote distinctive identity;
  • Ensure sustainable futures.

As I listened to their announcement, it was clear this report is a strong document to guide not only the Māori but assist also the settler colonial government, as Māori language is now the official language in New Zealand and their cultural customs and ways of conduct are being adopted and implemented in New Zealand more each year on all levels from community, businesses, and government agencies.

Another highlight of the conference, was meeting famous Indigenous Defender and Protector Tame ITi.  We watched his documentary, “Price of Peace” and listened to him share his life story. It was such an honour to be in the same space with him, I became emotional and honoured to share in the hongi with him.  He was very inspirational and his years of defending his people, their ways, and the environment.  He also shared he has stood with our people on Turtle Island and shared with our people in ceremony like the sweat lodge etc..  Tame ITi has been a highly respected leader of the Maori peoples since the late 1960s and so one.  As he shared his story, there were so many similar challenges with our relations here on our lands and still are.
Dale Steinhauer, Tame Iti, and myself
  He has been working to strengthen his people through their warrior teachings and actions and he was labelled a terrorist within the common law colonial legal system.  As a result, he served two (2) years in jail and went on a journey of clearing his name and demonstrating true spirit and intent of reconciliation and mutual respect.  The documentary is a must see! He is a person who lives through action the strong warrior spirit of his people guided by Creator’s Laws and not Man’s Laws.

On the final day of the conference, I was already very pleased and content with all I learned.  What I experienced in that week was beyond my expectations and as we travelled onward to southern Christchurch, New Zealand; I would find out, the adventure would only get better.  I was defiantly fulfilling a dream!  I fell in love with the land and the people.

Christchurch: Touring

The settler Australians and New Zealanders
Only Serve Nice People
The first few days were touring Christchurch, our home base was a quaint house along the beach overlooking the ocean. We spent time going to open markets, meeting locals, Indigenous and settlers.  However, as I met people sitting in special coffee houses, I took the opportunity to chat with some settlers too and educate them on the colonial oppression etc.. and how it has affected Indigenous Peoples but how we are rising even stronger.  At one point I was sitting talking with some New Zealand settler couple, and a Australian setter couple.  It was especially pleasing to irritate a European Australian woman on the genocidal acts and mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples and she sarcastically stated that, “the Europeans have a lot to answer for”.  As I responded with, “yes, they very well do”, with the agreement of the New Zealand couple.  She then proceeded to inform us, she was of original European descent and I stood by my statement without any apologies.  When she noticed I was not apologizing, she proceeded to vacate herself from our conversation and I continued to converse with the New Zealand settlers.  We continued to share and enlighten each other and left each other pleased with good conversation and coffee.

Christchurch: Māori Schools

Kevin's twin
Resources in Māori
As the next week arrived we visited two full immersion schools from K-12, one newly opened bilingual school from K-12, and one adult immersion evening class program.  It was a pleasure and honour to visit these schools and experience and witness the progress the Māori have completed since the resurgence of their peoples.  The schools are now state funded after years of diligent state lobbying, enforcement of their Treaty, creation of a language act and making Māori the official language of New Zealand, it has opened the doors up for mandated funding.  It must also be highlighted that anyone can learn Māori, up to three (3) years FREE due to the Māori official language legislation in New Zealand.  Over the past forty years, the Māori Peoples have persevered and much ground breaking work was done voluntarily and in the spirit of saving a peoples from extinction.  Their story rings similarly loud on the lands of our people too.
Wholistic Education includes emotional, physical, spiritual
Again, each school greeted us with their welcome ceremony as per Māori custom and we were welcomed as their extended families.  Each of us went into different classrooms and toured also their resource centres, gardens, mareas, and one school also had a few daycare centres turned into Language Nests, where parents were present too learning Māori along with their children.  As we toured the last school, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o TE WHĀNAU TAHI that week, I was hosted by a grade 8 male, a grade 9 female, and a grade 10 senior female.  As they shared their school’s history, they too could recite their tribe, the canoe their people arrived on and the beginning of their school in a Māori woman’s garage, with the eventual opening of the present location met with settler protests ten years before.  The grade 9 female only attended the immersion school for four years and I asked her, in relation to her experience at state schools, what her opinion was when comparing the schools.  She stated the state schools were different but she loved her school now.  I asked her what it was that she loved about it.  She immediately responded, “because we are family here” and later I would hear the grade 10 young lady state her time is spent mostly in school activities because she loves it there.  

One thing was clear, the students were very proud to be Māori and very proud of their school, their culture (so eager to show me their songs and warrior dances), their history, and accomplishments.  

Children see themselves as strong & proud Māori Ancestors
They appreciated the trials and tribulations of all those who worked diligently to create the school for them and strengthen their peoples.  This is what I witnessed and was strong in all the schools we visited.  The schools did function as families, the older students interacting, supporting, and even guiding the younger ones.  Role models at all ages and each school was at different levels of accessing technologies but still having to advocate for sufficient funding and keeping state control, at bay.  One school was in an older state school and in the process of building a new school in line with their customs and culture.  This would assist them in self determination and less on state intrusiveness.

One of the key points I want to make, before I move onto our next exploration, was how the Te Pā o Rākaihautū school interviews teachers who support and believe in Māori immersion and/or bilingualism.  This school does not do the customary colonial style of competitive, sell yourself type interview.  They utilize Māori custom and a teacher must be recommended to the school by relative(s), and/or supporter(s) (can be former colleagues etc.). 

Various age groups in same classroom
Passing on the knowledge
The candidate (potential teacher), arrives to the school with his/her supporters and they speak of the candidates character, their strengths, gifts, experience, and assets they would bring to the success of the school.  As per Māori custom, it is customary to be humble and not praise yourself; therefore, it is those who know you, who speak on behalf of you to your true character and reputation.  This helps them also ensure they hire teachers who support their school’s vision and are not their to hinder its’ progress and it supports Māori custom.  When I heard this, I was very pleased and would love to see this custom reclaimed in our nehiyaw schools too, as this was our custom/protocol too before colonial influence.  The remarkable outcome to this approach is the Principal stated, that the supporters are more honest than one would think and sometimes very honest, which forces the candidate to reflect on their true character and offer opportunity for improvement.  Maybe this can be an excellent practice too, when evaluating teachers.
This school also supported adult language education and housed evening weekly classes, and all New Zealanders (settlers), and Māori could learn the official language for Free.

Feathered Korowai
With that said, I walked away from the schools with new relations and changed in my views, strengthened in my heart, and more hope for the future.  It was a very fulfilling experience, and I look forward to returning.  I do want to continue collaborating and sharing as the future looks promising. 

We ended our school tours, hosted by Dr. Melanie R. Riwai-Couch family eating, sharing, laughing, and song at their home.  She is the principal at the last school we toured, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o TE WHĀNAU TAHI.

It was a great evening eating traditional foods, cooked in a modern Māori Hangi (Earth Oven), wearing a feathered Māori Korowai cape, and listening to Māori songs, and Kevin Lewis sharing with them a bit of our Creation Story and how the Spirit of Water was born and how the Rock Spirit is our conduit for our relationship with Kise manitow (Kise manitow).

South New Zealand Tribe: Rāpaki Marae

During that week, we also spent a very educational afternoon, learning the history of our host Rewi Couch’s tribal Rāpaki Marae, the years of genealogical and historical research of the families of his tribe and the peoples’ choices in which ancestors would adorn the walls of their Marea.  As we sat there for over three (3) hours learning all the ancestors on the totems, I was in amazement as I watched and listened to Rewi recite them and the stories of who they are.  He also shared how some Elders have their ancestral genealogy carved on their canes and they share it with their families.  This is where the Ta Moko (Sacred Tribal Tattoos with Spirits) assist in identifying which tribe a Māori person comes from.  Each family also goes to the Marae to recite their ancestor’s too and the stories, including their descent from Paikea.  These Maraes are their temples, their place of unity, their relations, and where their future will thrive.  What was amazing is that as the week progressed and we were introduced to other relations of Rewi Couch, he would remind of which ancestor on their Marae, this or that person came from and I could see the connections and remember the story.  It was like it was my families stories too because they were shared with us so freely and created ancestral connections and knowledge.  I would take their knowledge home and be forever thankful for being part of their story too.

Eighteen Tribes of the NGĀI TAHU POUNAMU Corporation 

As we neared the end of our journey, it was arranged for us to spend the day at the NGĀI TAHU POUNAMU Corporation.  This corporation is made up of eighteen (18) south New Zealand tribes; which was strengthened by the 1998 Ngāi Tahu Land Settlement due to an outstanding 1844 Māori land sale done with the English Crown.

The corporation is responsible for over 56000 of it’s members, and ensures they serve and stay in constant communication with all their members, no matter where they are internationally or locally.  There is no discrimination of their Māori peoples and/or state doesn't dictate who are members (like Indian Affairs does in Canada), they are self determining and exercise their sovereignty as membership is determined by their ancestral genealogies.  Members are required to track their tribal history from the seven (7) canoes which landed on New Zealand.  This has led to an increase in membership and Māori descension and helped breakdown the colonial misinformation that Māori presence in New Zealand is a minority peoples.

The corporation has an in house radio station to assist to maintain communication and promote Māori initiatives and goals for the present and future.  We were honoured to be guests of the TAHU FM Radio station Live Show talking about or UNBQ Language Revitalization Tour

Blue Quills First Nations Students from Canada ‘on air’ Tahu FM

TAHU FM: We were guests on LIVE Radio
University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills Student from Canada visit Te Whare o Te Waipounamu, 23 November 2016.  Listen to their korero with Pou from the Kurakura Pounamu Show.
Their traditional drum featured in this photo ‘you will hear during this korero’.
School Website:

The corporation, not only, invests for sustainability but they offer many resources and supports for their members from scholarships, genealogy, archival data, historical knowledge, all types of research, trust funds funds for business development, purchase home, and also education.  Their website is impressive and filled with extensive information.  The corporation is a development I continually dream in becoming a reality on our land, for our people.  It is a true example of unity and exercising sovereignty and self determination.  

As each member is born, they receive a welcome package called a “Ngai Tahu's safe sleeping pack” with all the information they need to start off in life as a strong and proud Māori, including a scroll of their genealogy to ensure they remained connected to their peoples.  

This place, I would encourage our people to intern and learn from there example.  They are doing remarkable work for their people and advancing everyday to assist their people not survive life but flourish and thrive.

Journey to Turtle Island

As we prepared to journey back to our home lands, I took the morning walking along the beach, taking in the warm spring air, the bright sun, and the essence of this place.  I walked to the market and sat and had my last cappuccino and took a moment to give thanks for this unforgettable and remarkable experience, including the selfless, tireless, loving kindness of our hosts Rewi Couch and Marilyn Shirt.  

Enjoying the moments along the ocean
I vowed to return, I left a piece of my spirit there, and one day I will return to retrieve it, so I can learn more from them and pass the knowledge and guidance on to our people.  Knowledge we too, can ensure our existence, not only physically but holistically through the revitalization of our Indigenous languages and cultures.  We are more related to the Māori peoples than many choose to see, they are our Indigenous brothers and sisters from across the sacred waters, yet they exemplify true Indigenous spirit of sharing, caring, and unconditional kindness ~ this is the true meaning of decolonization and honouring our Indigenous Spirits!
New Extended Relations from the lands of the Māori

The trip to New Zealand, like I stated earlier, far exceeded my expectations and guided in strengthening my belief that language is KEY in the resurgence of Indigenous Peoples, as a means to rising from the clenches of colonial oppression.  The colonial english word for “revitalize”, clarifies even further this revolutionary movement:

ReVITALizing Languages is VITAL to our survival!
imbue with new life and vitality.

synonyms: reinvigorate, re-energize, boost, regenerate, revive, revivify, rejuvenate, reanimate, resuscitate, refresh, stimulate, breathe new life into; informal give a shot in the arm to, pep up, jump-start, buck up

“Revitalize” entails breathing life back into a language; therefore, breathing life back into a peoples, their ancestors, and even their future.  The breath of life, so commonly exercised daily by the Māori through their welcoming gesture of the Hongi, as this is also how they send you off into the future. 

* Special Note: I am no expert on Māori culture or traditions & all I am able to do is my best to express and share the remarkable experience I had; however, if I made inaccuracies etc.., I invite you to make a comment and I can make corrections.  I do not want to share misinformation.  With all due respect.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

(White Wolf)
Shannon M Houle

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