Taking up the challenge
“Seek opportunities, wānanga, courses, iwi initiatives, learn the reo, and most importantly use it.”
That’s the advice of Angie Bird (Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Rangitāne o Wairau, Ngāti Kuia and Ngāi Tahu, among others) to anyone who has ever wanted to learn te reo Māori.
Angie, a descendant of Meihana Kereopa and Hana Whiro, and her whānau are big supporters of Mahuru Māori, which challenges participants to speak te reo Māori during the month of September.
But her love for the language goes far beyond a single month of the year - it’s been a life-long journey.
Angie, who lives in Blenheim where she is an administrator with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, began learning te reo Māori from a young age, starting at E Tipu E Rea Kōhanga Reo at Puketāwai Marae in Tolaga Bay before moving to a total immersion kaupapa Māori class at Tolaga Bay Area School. When her whānau made the move to Marlborough, she continued studies at Whitney Street School, which at that time had an immersion class.
But a move into mainstream classes at intermediate took its toll and although she went on to study te reo Māori at college, she found little support, and she says her reo suffered as a result.
Not to be beaten, when Ang left college, she secured a position teaching at Ngā Puawai te Kohanga Reo, beginning a 14-year involvement with Kohanga Reo. Here, she re-connected with te reo Māori and also discovered a passion for working with tamariki.
Her next stop was Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, where she signed up for te reo courses, and to this day the learning has not stopped.
With her tamariki Manaia Ieremia, aged 12, and Malakai Kaloni, 6, she attends kura reo offered through her workplace and local iwi and keeps an eye out for other learning opportunities to support her reo journey. Manaia is a regular at the Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō Mana Rangatahi wānanga and is also part of the tribe’s Ngā Toki leadership initiative.
But if you’re a beginner, where do you start?
“I’d encourage anyone who’s hungry to learn to actively look for opportunities and take the next step,” says Angie.
One thing she is strong on: the entire whānau needs to use te reo regularly to master the language. Both Manaia and Malakai attend Te Pā Wānanga, a kaupapa Māori unit of Renwick School based at Omaka Marae. And at home, they speak as much te reo Māori as they can.
Angie also encourages Māori to register with their iwi and take up te reo and other iwi initiatives to support their learning journey, and at the same time build on their knowledge about who they are and where they come from.
“Don’t be afraid, take up any opportunity that will allow you to immerse yourself and your whānau in the language and customs.
“Once you begin your journey learning te reo Māori, don’t forget to use the words that you learn. The language will continue to suffer if we learn the reo but don’t use it daily.”