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Turia: Cook Islands People’s Te Reo Meeting

Cook Islands People’s Te Reo Meeting

Wednesday 4 October 2006

Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate, Otara, Manukau City

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

I am greatly humbled to be invited here today, to share your important journey in safeguarding the essence of who you are. Your language, your identity, your people.

It is indeed an honour to be here to support your hui for the preservation of te reo Maori Kuki Airani, here in Aotearoa.

I want to particularly acknowledge Mr Tony Tuauri, chairperson of the te reo committee; and Mr Hakaoro Hakaoro for extending the hand of manaakitanga and being willing to share the excitement of this moment with the Maori Party. You have stood tall as a community of proud and passionate Cook Islands peoples, bringing together the collective will to revitalize your language; and I congratulate you all.

Today you are taking an important step to ensure your language is no longer threatened, but instead poised to thrive.

It is a vision, we as tangata whenua in Aotearoa, have the utmost respect for, as we move alongside you, in nurturing, maintaining and developing our reo rangatira.

Half a century ago in November 1957, Sir Kingi Ihaka shared his views about the permanence of the language, prestige and the land.

Ki te toitu te kupu, ara te reo Maori

Ki te toitu te mana o te iwi Maori

Ki te toitu te whenua, ka mau te Maoritanga

Otira me penei

Ki te ngaro te reo Maori

Ki te ngaro nga whenua Maori

Ka ngaro te mana Maori

Without the language, without prestige, and without land; Maoritanga will cease to exist. These three - language, prestige and land, are the life of Maori.

The steps that we make to care for and protect the future of our language, are indeed central to our foundation as indigenous peoples.

The three principles Sir Kingi Ihaka talked of are principles which would resonate right throughout the Pacific. They are principles which he then saw given life in the first New Zealand Polynesian Festival which was held at the Sportsdrome, Rotorua in 1973.

And so again, it was Sir Kingi Ihaka we remember with respect, who as Chairman of the Festival Committee welcomed the Samoans, Tongans, Tokelauans, Niueans and Cook Islanders who joined together as a united front, celebrating their distinctive languages, their cultural diversity energizing all who attended the day.

And here we are, thirty years later, still calling for unity and commitment to ensure our indigenous languages survive.

We have a proverb bequeathed to us by our ancestors, töku reo, töku ohooho - my language, my awakening.

That is the message Sir Kingi Ihaka inspired fifty years ago, thirty years ago. That is the message I have seen our young rangatahi give life to in events such as the Nga Manu korero national speech competitions, or in Pasifika, the South Pacific's largest Pacific Islands community which takes over the month of March every year.

This is the message which also runs right through the fabulous Celebrate Pasifika which incorporated 42 events, including the inaugural Pacific Trade Expo, Genetic Pasifika at Auckland Museum, and Pollywood Shorts Four at six locations around Auckland.

There is much to cherish, much to treasure, in the awakening of our indigenous languages.

I want to particularly acknowledge the vital importance of taking this step, right now, to a better future.

The urgency of the need for action is illustrated by figures from the 2001 Census which show that only six percent of New Zealand-born people of Cook Islands descent were able to hold an everyday language in the Cook Island Language.

The Government would probably say they have been pulling out all the stops - apparently the Ministry and before them, the Department of Education has been publishing resources in Cook Islands language since 1950, and last year, launched Cook Island Maori in the New Zealand Curriculum.

Such a long history of bureaucratic business - and yet the language is in still such an endangered state - signals to me that something obviously doesn’t quite add up. I must admit to not being surprised - this is the same Government that when challenged about removing the Treaty from the latest draft, responded that it would enhance the Treaty, to not have it specified in the school curriculum! It sure doesn’t make sense to me - and so I wonder if the same logic is applied to your draft documents.

And so, I want to congratulate you all in calling your own hui, to stay true to your tikanga in your journey onwards to strengthen your reo.

It is a journey the Maori Party - and indeed all tangata whenua - will watch with interest.

Our whakapapa binds us and connects us in ways which extend across the oceans of Te Moana-nui-a Kiwa.

Culturally and linguistically, Cook Island Maori are the most familiar - and similar to the tangata whenua of Aotearoa. Our history and present is inter-linked.

Last year you celebrated forty years celebration of self-government in free association with New Zealand. Nowhere was the bond of connection more apparent than in the obvious and mutual love shared between the Cook Islands people and the late Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu.

At the koroneihana this very year, Te Atairangikaahu had warmly embraced the three different roopu of about three hundred Cook Islanders who attended the celebrations. Her forty years as Monarch was a remarkable period in our mutual histories, marked by your forty years of celebrations of Constitution Day.

I want to conclude by just acknowledging the remarkable gifts the Cook Islands have shared with us, in the creativity and passion of your peoples. Every area of our world is enrichened with your talents - on the sportsfield, in the lecture halls, in the theatre, in corporate business rooms.

That there is a particular pride amongst Cook Islands Maori and tangata whenua of Aotearoa is obvious in the fact that Maori Television has secured exclusive rights to broadcast the rugby league series between New Zealand Maori and the Cook Islands in Rarotonga in November!

My colleague, Dr Pita Sharples, was really inspired by his visit to Rarotonga in June, with other Members of the Parliament, to look at ways in which New Zealand and Cook Islands businesses can work together to explore trade and economic development opportunities that will benefit both countries. These are all links that we value greatly - and today is a celebration of all of those points as well.

It is because of all of these connections, the whakawhanaungatanga that binds and unites us, that I know the path you are on, is a pathway forward - because it is a pathway determined by you.

You have taken on this important action to come together, for the first time, to determine the strategies and goals you need to set in order to nurture, maintain and develop the Cooks Islands Maori language. This is who you are.

You have to have faith in the essence of who you are and do what you know will work for you as a people. This is not only part of our past, but is an important part of our future as well.

Kia mau koe ki nga kupu o ou tupuna

Hold fast to the words of your ancestors


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