A young John Key once came home from a day at Burnside high school a tad irritated. There seemed to be a problem. The fact that he was not learning a foreign language, meant that he was restricted from entering the form group that boasted the schools highest academic achievers. As his mother was originally from Austria, and spoke fluent German, he proposed to her that she should have taught him the language. Mrs Key responded horrified ‘You’re never going to Europe, what use is German? The whole purpose of education is to do something with your life and German will never do anything for you’. That was the end of that. Given the huge influence that John Keys Mother had on him and his political foundations, I am of the strong belief that the Prime Minister’s attitude toward Te Reo Maori and its proliferation within the context of modern day Aotearoa New Zealand was fostered and given foundation through this short, but very pertinent and purposeful conversation.
Te Reo Maori; an official language of Aoteroa New Zealand, a language unique to Aotearoa New Zealand and a language that has seen significant trends toward revitalisation and cultural reintegration. A language that most non-maori probably see as separate or irrelevant within their cultural make up or identity (outside of the obvious realms of the haka and a few other gimmicky words that is).
We seemed to be faced with a question of cultural introspection. How important is our identity as New Zealanders and how much relevance does the Maori culture of which the reo is an integral part; have in this day and age.
If we look at traditionally monolingual countries that have English as a primary second language, nations of a similar size to New Zealand such as Norway and Denmark come to mind. Their native language is an integral part of their cultural make up, of their education system and of their country as a whole. These countries are better off because of this. I don’t think the relevance of the language on a world stage or in a business context plays a part in how they view the relevancy of their language. It is a part of them. It defines them.
What we have here in New Zealand in reflection, is a large part of the population base that want to deny that the Maori language holds the importance that any native language unique to a country should. We have scare mongers claiming that they are protecting their children’s rights by arguing that Maori is ‘irrelevant’ or ‘dead’.
Some, including John Key, argue that if any language was to be made compulsory within New Zealand schools, it should obviously be Chinese Mandarin. The American Defence Language Aptitude Battery considers Chinese Mandarin a Category four level language or in other words one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world, especially for English speakers. It is my opinion that those who believe that New Zealand schoolchildren could gain fluency in this language with a few classes a week without being immersed in a fully drenched mandarin speaking environment, are in effect, pissing in the wind. Te Reo Maori on the other hand presents us with words and sounds that we as New Zealander’s are familiar with and that we can use in our conversations with fellow kiwis.
With te reo Maori we have a language that already surrounds us, is part of us and helps us unite as New Zealanders. The path to the understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of New Zealand’s cultural beauty lies within this language, if people would step back and accept this, maybe we wouldn’t be having tedious arguments. Should it be compulsory for New Zealand children to learn about an important part of their cultural make up? I think so. At the very least it should be encouraged. It will take the majority to change their views before the Maori language gets the recognition it deserves.
So what does the future hold? To me, it holds a society that contains a large group of Maori that are continually bitter towards the dissentful, unwillining and narrow minded masses that refuse to acknowledge Te Reo Maori as a taonga that is pertinent to all New Zealanders. The beauty of this cultural treasure supersedes any relevance that Te Reo Maori has within a world business context or as a language that is only spoken by ‘x’ number of people. This type of attitude does not just extend to the Maori language, it extends to many cultural arms of Maoridom. It is pure cultural hypocrisy to actively and fervently devalue and minimise one of the most important aspects of Maori culture, while then expecting Maori to adhere and succumb to a reduced influence within a country that they are becoming increasingly marginalised.