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Flavell: Endangered Languages Conference

XVI Foundation for Endangered Languages Conference - Language Endangerment in the 21st Century:
Globalisation, Technology and New Media

Ngā Wai o Horotiu Marae, AUT University

Wednesday 12 September 2012
Te Ururoa Flavell; MP for Waiariki

Forty years ago on 14 September 1972, history was made as a roopu marched on to the steps of Parliament, carrying with them a petition containing the signatures of thirty thousand New Zealanders.

I have a photograph of that day and in the spirit of this important hui, I want to reflect on the faces that fronted the long walk for the preservation and protection of te reo Māori.

Te Ouenuku (Joe) Rene heads the pathway to parliament. Next to him was Koro Te Kapunga Matemoana Dewes; Hana Hemara; Sid Jackson and resplendent in his afro, Rawiri Paratene.

Also at the front of the line was Cathy Dewes, Rawiri Rangitauira; Whaimutu Dewes; Joe Te Rito; Rangi Nicholson, Lee Smith; Reverend Hemi Potatau; Huirangi Waikerepuru; Jamie Schuster and a long line of others.

Prominent in the background of the photo is the defiant statue of Richard John Seddon, a former Prime Minister, his right arm raised in the air. There are two important pieces of evidence in the archives that suggest why the statue of Premier Seddon is a vital part of this historic day. The first is a photograph of the Premier at Papawai Marae – the site of Kotahitanga, the Māori Parliament.

We have reports of the sessions of this parliament recorded in Huia Tangata Kotahi – a Māori language newspaper published by Ihaia Hutana from 1893 to 1895. Amongst its recommendations, the Māori Parliament passed a resolution to end the sale of Māori land.

The second treasure from the archives, is another photograph from September 1895 – and it features a deputation of Urewera chiefs visiting Richard John Seddon at his ministerial residence in Wellington. Out of that visit, came the Urewera District Native Reserve Act, which was passed on 12 October 1896. This is a fascinating statute, which essentially legislates for the process of self-government for Ngāi Tuhoe through a General Committee representing the various iwi and hapū of the region.

All these three photographic exhibits, when brought together, compile a rich whariki from which to consider the endangered position of our language.

In these three images we span across a century; we are faced with a range of political, cultural and sociological statements that connect us to this time, this place, this hui.

24 hours ago came the announcement that the Crown and Ngāi Tuhoe will work to develop a Deed of Settlement.

A century after the Urewera chiefs sat on Premier Seddon’s front lawn, legislation is finally being enacted which promotes mana motuhake for Tuhoe. In outlining the importance of this settlement, Minister Finlayson spoke of a travesty of justice – in which the land was wrongly confiscated; a staged process of extermination was applied against Tuhoe prisoners and civilians; and the Crown employed a scorched earth policy in which their crops and buildings were destroyed; their livelihood shattered.

One hundred years since the 1896 Urewera Act, the Crown is finally recognising the unique status of Te Urewera; and in an effort to bridge the gap in the evolving relationship, Ngāi Tuhoe and the Crown have created an innovative platform for their future.

Our language, our history speaks to our present, it speaks to us now at this hui.

Tinirau of Whanganui said:

Toi te kupu, toi te mana, toi te whenua

The language, prestige and land will endure. Without these three, Māori culture will cease to exist.

I have drawn on this context, to introduce this kōrero, to remind us of the importance of the people; the language; the whenua; the legislation; and the leadership that has characterised our mutual histories in this land.

Today, our focus is on te reo – but we can never consider the language on its own without recognising it as intimately linked within the wider framework of indigenous rights.

Te reo rangatira is precisely that – the language of our tupuna; the language of chiefs; the language of our people. It is a means of communication of some of the most sacred and unique aspects of who we are. It is who we are.

There are international theories of language acquisition which explain that the limits of our language are the limits of our world. How do we express all that we are if we do not have the words to convey the essence of our beliefs, our values, our way of life?

And so I am proud that one of the major successes the Māori Party has been able to advance is to encourage and negotiate with the National Government to appreciate and recognise the rights of indigenous people as articulated in respective United Nations Declarations.

By far the most relevant declaration for this hui, is the United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples adopted exactly five years ago tomorrow, on 13 September 2007. That declaration clearly articulates the rights of indigenous peoples to their language. Article 14 states:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning”.

In te Ao Māori we often talk about te hunga wairua, the coming together of certain events, of certain peoples to mark the significance of the take. You are here in Aotearoa, what can I say??

There is a saying we have:

Ko te reo Māori te kākahu o te whakaaro, te huarahi i te ao turoa
Te reo Māori is the cloak of thought, and the pathway for the world ahead.

It would seem to me that all these dates, all these connections through te reo Māori do provide us with food for thought as we look to the future.

If we are able to give voice to the stories of our people, we are able to give expression to our identity; our descendants will live on and thrive.

This hui, then is right to focus on endangered languages as the source of our survival.

For well over 160 years, we have invested in doing all that we can to provide for and look after our unique cultural heritage.

The original Te Reo Maori claim in 1986 [Wai 11] challenged the Crown to give effect to its Treaty obligations to protect and promote te reo Maori as an endangered taonga.

Before that, back in the seventies there were many champions of the language who were at the vanguard of change.

The original idea of a petition came from Hana (Hemara) Jackson and Nga Tamatoa in Auckland who together with Te Reo Maori Society in Wellington, did the hard yards in getting the signatures together.

The churches came on board through the National Council of Churches and the influence of Rev Don Borrie. In 1971 they joined with Te Reo Māori to publish an Akonga te reo Māori half page newspaper feature which called on all New Zealanders to learn and teach Maori for the good of all in the nation. Apparently Te Reo Māori also paid for advertisements on the radio to encourage announcers to say ‘Kia Ora’ for one dollar a pop.

We now have a long established framework for language restoration, mobilised by an army of advocates in kōhanga reo, puna reo, kura kaupapa, kura-a-iwi, whare kura, wānanga, universities, Māori language institutes, immersion hui.

There are scores of thesis papers; volumes of doctorates and of course the excellent analysis outlined in Te Reo Mauriora – the review of the Māori Language sector and the Māori Language Strategy if you are interested in pursuing this history further.

Our literature in te reo Māori is increasing, albeit slowly. We have Māori operated and Māori driven publishers; a rich corpus of both traditional and contemporary waiata Māori; numerous editions of moteatea; poetry; and an ever growing body of academic studies in, by and about the language.

Today, this hui, takes this archive onto another level altogether.

And I want to mihi to Professor Tania Ka’ai for the development of Te Ipukarea and the International Centre for Language Revitalisation and Digital Resources.

This Institute epitomises the value of a collaboration between community and tertiary Māori language providers. It brings all the key players together as one; utilising modern technologies to bring about efficiencies of scale while still raising the status of the language.

Three months ago I travelled to Moko Marae in Te Puke for the launch of the Te Whanake online platform within the context of the Tapuika iwi authority language revitalisation strategy.

It was an opportunity to learn about the work undertaken in the protection of the tribal estate; Te Takapu o Tapuika. This kura has invested in the purchase of twenty iPads for the classroom; and their staff and whānau are being supported with professional development from Apple IT consultants, digital experts and trainers working with the kura to integrate learning applications into the curriculum. They have Computers in Homes allowing parents the opportunity to support their children in their studies at home.

A key part of the strategy is that the unique dialect of Tapuika is preserved through the Tapuika dictionary and pod casting of Tapuikatanga. It was ample proof of the revitalisation of te reo being led by whānau, hapū and iwi; being re-established in the home but with the potential to reach far beyond.

For some sense of the global impact that is being achieved, the Tapuika language revitalisation pilot is joining with Salish, Yiddish and Hawai’ian language groups as part of an endangered languages project.

Variable reports indicate that anything from between 3000 to 7000 languages across the world are on the verge of extinction. It is estimated that approximately half of these will be extinct by the end of this century.

A global digital media network has been established to save the world’s most endangered languages – and I am so proud of my whanaunga Hinematau McNeill and the leadership being demonstrated by the Tapuika Language Revitalisation Strategy as being part of that campaign.

What we know is that language is never static. It is forever evolving.

The online digital platform serves many purposes. It seeks to preserve our cultural knowledge; and honour the legacy of our ancestors.

The technology can help to strengthen us, through creating and storing high quality recordings of our elders – and in this way, connecting those speakers to the purest form of the language spoken by their tupuna before them.

It is about language preservation as a foundation for the future.

But it is also about revitalising and energising our speakers of tomorrow by the new technological advances that breathe new spirit into our reo.

So I come back to the three photographs that inspired me this morning.

Survival is about the restoration and revitalisation of the language, the people, the heritage, the whakapapa, the knowledge, the history that is ours to claim and ours to protect.

Ko tōku nui, tōku wehi, toku whakatiketike, tōku reo.

But it is also about knowing that for our language to survive we must explore every avenue possible.

It is not enough to rely on Modern Māori; on the Ngata or Williams dictionary, the Reed resources; or even the Ataarangi method as the exclusive reference points for our growth.

When the independent panel established by Dr Sharples in the review of the Māori language sector travelled across the motu, three central themes arose out of the discussions with Māori:

Ko te reo i te kāinga – the language in the home
Kei te iwi, hapū , whānau, hāpori te mana whakahaere – iwi, hapū, families and communities to be the principal drivers
Whakapikihia te kounga o te reo o ngā kaiako reo Māori : improve the quality of the language used by Māori language teachers.

The conclusions were clear – we need to re-establish te reo in homes, and to do this, the public sector’s role is to support Māori to achieve their own revitalisation strategy.

It is about programmes to learn the reo; the opportunities to kōrero; the environment to practise.

It is about naturalising and normalising te reo in our conversations; our broadcasts; our events and functions; our entertainment.

It is about all this and more.

From time to time we need the shock treatment effect! We need to keep telling our people that their language is dying so we do not become complacent. We need to challenge them that there is something missing for them when they cannot speak their language, they are not quite the full package! That is hard for many but it may be the push we need to get our people to capture their birthright.

We must tell them also that they are special is they speak our language. Why? Because it is spoken nowhere else in the world.

Te reo Maori means much more than Maori language – it means voice (personal and collective), spokesperson (so a reo can be a person), it means message (so it is ideas as well as words), it means dialect, so it embraces a diversity of forms of language, and that’s just a start.

So in fact the key concept of ‘reo’ is not just language, but all forms of communication. A further part of the argument says that communication is about creating community, and reo concerns community identity and leadership – rangatiratanga – as I said earlier, it is literally about defining and expanding the limits of our world.

Which bring me finally onto the concept of spectrum.

The language petition came to town in the days before we could conceive of the incredible diversity of digital communications – video conferencing was the limit of our imagination. Social media, streaming audio and video on the internet, cell phone apps were unknown.

Given the value of all these forms of communication for language promotion and revitalisation, and the breakdown of physical and cultural boundaries around communities, I believe that the Crown would be hard pressed today to deny Maori claims that all frequencies of spectrum are subject to Treaty claim, not just broadcasting frequencies.

This is especially apparent since the diversity of digital media and the proliferation of channels of communication diminish the power of broadcasting to reach a wide audience.

This conference is poised to expand our horizons in the significant pursuit of protecting our language and languages from extinction.

This conference will provide an important platform to discuss an evolving language - how do you maintain and preserve the way we use reo in an environment where communication is mostly digital? The challenge of an oral language in a digital world.

Your programme is crammed full of some incredible challenges – from the role of satellite channels in language maintenance; the value of a digital dictionary; the imperative of language planning in a digital age.

There will be passionate debates about pronunciation; about dialects and mita; about how best to increase language proficiency.

We can learn how to translate Facebook into endangered languages or how to protect the small local newspapers for linguistic posterity.

I want to commend and thank you all for your sacrifices; your commitment and your dedication that you have made towards protecting the mauri of te reo.

Just like the Urewera Chiefs travelled to visit the Prime Minister at home; or our language heroes marched on masse to Pōneke; we have a proud history of doing whatever it takes to advance our language, our people; our whenua and in doing so, to enable its survival mo ake tonu.

There’s a simple statement that Nelson Mandela once said, ‘if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart’.

That is the challenge ahead of us but it is so true. We see it so often when our people stand in embarrassment to apologise that they cannot speak in their language.

I know our language to be spiritual when I reflect on the eulogies delivered in Parliament in 2010 when the country mourned 31 miners who died in tragic circumstances at the Pike River Mine. I was the only one of our members present in Parliament that day so delivered my speech entirely in Māori as I would on any marae in the country.

While members have translation services available through ear pieces, it seems the delivery of the words carried the message that was not lost on them. Some acknowledged my speech but one person in particular approached me immediately after in tears saying that my speech was one of the most moving speeches he had ever heard. He may not have understood the words but he felt the message.

Similarly, when my wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Ainu people in Japan to celebrate the launch of their political movement, as we had our last night with them, I expressed our thanks to our hosts many of who were in tears even though they did not understand any words said. That may well have been because of a happiness to see us gone!! I suspect not but our language is beautiful like that.

There can be no sweeter success in life than the survival of the hearts and mind of all of our peoples; to treasure the legacy of their ancestors; to pave a pathway forward for their grandchildren.

I wish you well in planning for language acquisition, maintenance and revitalisation over the next decades, the next century; the next millennium. Thank you for allowing me to open your conference. I wish you well.

Tēnā tātou katoa.


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