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Media coverage associated with last week’s 2015 Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week, ended on a bit of a bum note when Prime Minister John Key was called out by the Sunday Star-Times for the way he appeared to pour instant cold water on the idea of extending it to a Māori Language Month.

To be fair to the PM, he had started Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori positively at his Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 5.41.58 amweekly Beehive press conference on Monday 27 July by delivering a casual-as, un-noticed “Kia ora tatou” … but ended the week poorly when his answer to a 16-year-old’s idea at a school assembly at Waiuku College of extending the celebration of the language to a month, was that it would leave people “bored”.

In the one-dimensional front page item this generated, Māori Party co-leader, and by the way Māori Development Minister, Te Ururoa Flavell, retorted that “it’s boring to speak English most of the time”.

Earlier in the week – as part of the Herald’s annual splash of Te Reo Maori coverage – Mr Flavell had stated he wants a greater focus on the language all year round.

In a video clip posted on the Herald site, Mr Flavell’s inimitable downbeat manner he encouraged the week to be seen as a time to take stock.

He put the challenge thus: “Every year (Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori) comes around, (it’s a) nice to do, yeah yeah yeah… but actually nothing happens for the rest of the year”.

In RNZ coverage during the week, Maori Television board member Dr Cathy Dewes view was that a week “isn’t enough but it’s better than nothing”.

In a brief audio broadcast from Te Manu Korihi reporter, Andrew McRae, Dewes also commented on the “institutionalised arrogance” that has been a barrier to deeper acceptance of te reo.

Waikato University’s Pou Temara, Professor of Te Reo and Tikanga, adjudged that the aspiration for te reo to be spoken “everywhere, by every time, at all times” has been regurgitated so often it “has almost become rhetoric”.

It does seem that the attention given to Māori Language Week – the 40th this year, and 25 years after Māori became an official language no less – could be said to be stuck in a loop.

Reportage on te ao Māori in New Zealand retains a predictable pattern year after year, with spikes around Waitangi Day and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (also having a milestone of 175 years in 2015) and in recent times Matariki, or  Māori new year, in late May – early June being a good story magnet.

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori itself emerged from Māori Language Day – first officially held on September 14, 1971. So there is definitely no reason for it not to continue to evolve, and perhaps it would be logical if the energy around Matariki celebrations could be combined with celebrating te reo over a longer period?

In reality you would think that’s a challenge (wero) that could be picked up by the Māori Language Commission, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori – which while facing a lot of questionmarks about its own future within wider strategies, continues in its significant role as a pivotal hub for resources when Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori rolls around each year.

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This image depicts Hinurewa Poutu together with her students at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Mana Tamariki, walking boldly toward the camera, living testimony to the success yielded from the past 40 years and the first few steps taken by Dame Whina Cooper and her grandchild. Hinurewa is a new board commissioner at Te Taura Whiri, a scholar and accomplished young Maori leader. She balances her life with duties as a pouako, educationalist and teacher, of primary and secondary-aged students at the school that nurtured her with te reo Maori.

Tino pai NZ Herald 

Meanwhile the NZ Herald’s focus on the week in 2015, kept alive through the efforts of journalists like Simon Collins and Mathew Dearnaley, and (un-named translators), was again commendable.

As well as an extensive run of vocabulary and words (kupu), to learn about and commit to memory, features of the coverage included:

  • A pre-week selection on 25 July of songs and music videos that took te reo Māori to the top of the pop charts as picked by NZ On Screen Content Director Irene Gardiner.
  • A Herald on Sunday column by Heather du Plessis-Allan that asserted “Language builds nations… Te Reo should be compulsory in schools”, under the headline ‘Te reo – We’re not trying hard enough’. (102 comments)
  • The Herald‘s leader writer(s) contributed an editorial noting the “familiar objections” to fully embedding te reo Māori in the Primary School curriculum, referring to it as a suggestion that “has been made here in Maori Language Week for several years”. Where should the onus fall? In the Herald’s opinion finding enough teachers of the language “ought to have been high on the Maori Party’s priorities as a condition of its support for the present Government (and) Maori MPs in the Labour Party ought to be pressing for a commitment from the party at the next election”. Note: The Green Party and New Zealand First have called for a select committee inquiry into Te Reo Māori in schools.
  • A not unexpected “wake-up call” that te reo is in danger of dying out from Dr Timoti Karetu, who was the first Māori Language Commissioner from 1987-99. Later in the week Dr Karetu delivered an inaugural State of Te Reo Māori address at Te Papa.
  • Additional op-eds from: Tuehu Harris, acting chief executive of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori; Paora Maxwell, chief executive of Maori Television; Dr Paul Moon, Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology; and Dr Dean Mahuta, a senior lecturer at Te Ara Poutama, AUT’s faculty of Maori and indigenous development, and associate director of Te Ipukarea, AUT’s national Maori language institute.
  • Video and story of the Lovell family’s te reo journey (video by Sam Sword)

As stated the Herald does a good job of adding stories under Te Reo Māori – as lodged on its own archive page.

For the year to date, and using just a site search for “te reo” it’s interesting to contemplate the extent of instances of coverage that come to light just attributable back to the Herald: A 21 June Herald on Sunday editorial stating “It is thanks to Maori that we realise language is a treasure”; news of Pita Sharples being made a knight companion of the NZ Order of Merit; a flurry of “cultural immersion” stories when in connection to Prince Harry and his visit in May; MOTAT winning a prize for “clever use of te reo” at the ServiceIQ 2015 New Zealand Museum Awards in Dunedin; advance news in April that William Shakespeare’s famous Globe theatre is heading to Auckland in 2016 and that a te reo rendition of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, written by actor and director Rachel House, will be performed; use of te reo by KIWA Digital, an Auckland-based production house for experiential digital books; the success of social enterprise, Patu Aotearoa; a call from Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy on Race Relations Day for te reo Māori to be compulsory in schools; the reactions recorded in February to 3News weather presenter Kanoa Lloyd using te reo during her segments (with a Herald on Sunday column by Kerre McIvor on the topic attracting more abuse in amongst 145 comments); and another book angle in a January article about author Sharon Holt’s collection of Te Reo Singalong books.

It seems like a long list, but in other eyes it might also seem like slim pickings, if you were wanting to arrive at a measure of positive ‘Māori reportage’ at our defacto national newspaper.

That impression is balanced out more when the stream of news published across the wider NZME. stable is taken into account.

The wider NZME.

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Heading the pack – not surprisingly – is the Rotorua Daily Press.

Its stories during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori touched on a gym initiative led by Healthy Families Aotearoa, the launch of a te reo single by a local musician, the use of te reo prompts by Museum guides, a feature on te reo learning as a family affair and a story that began “Some Rotorua residents say it has been a life-long struggle to get people to say their names properly as calls are made for te reo Maori to be pronounced correctly”.

(We can’t mention the Rotorua Daily Post and its breadth of coverage and leave out a mention of the video posted there on 22 February of Modern Maori Quartet covering Lorde’s Royals, as originally performed on TV variety show Happy Hour, produced by Pango Aotearoa Ltd).

The Northern Advocate, Bay of Plenty Times and Hawkes Bay Today were all equally active and ran upbeat editorial columns (Hopes for spread of Māori; All signs pointing to te reo progress; Celebrate a lovely language).

Making news in Whangarei was a heavy metal band, Alien Weaponry, for putting a twist on the traditional Māori waiata with what they believe may be the first heavy metal song in te reo Māori – Ruana Te Whenua.

Times editor Rosie Dawson-Hewes wrote that she had “spent a bit of time this week thinking about Te Ao Maori (the Maori world), partly due to it being Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and partly thanks to a brilliant talk by local Maori marriage celebrant Ellis Bryers at TEDxTauranga [about cultural identity and ‘Kiwitanga’]”.

Hawkes Bay Today reported that Eastern Institute of Technology was a showcase for the Maori language this week, with daily activities celebrating and promoting te reo.

A phrase of the week in the Wanganui Chronicle was “It’s cool to korero”, and at the Wairarapa Times-Age the story that the FreshChoice and SuperValue nationwide chain of 60 supermarkets spanning the country were promoting downloadable Māori language posters, colouring resources and matching cards made the news.

This fly-by of the ‘provincial coverage’ is a lead in to saying that the coverage of te reo Māori, and Māori achievement and cultural events generally do get reasonable play at the papers set out above – but it is hard work finding it, and a much larger topic to cover than intended for this article.

… and on a slightly bizarre note

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A hat tip, too, for the Black Caps playing kitted out as “Aotearoa”, not “New Zealand” to mark the final day of Mãori Language Week. But we have to say the fact it happened in a one-day international against Zimbabwe, in Zimbabwe, was at a few levels just a bit bizarre.

In some ways you could say it was symbolic of our muddled relationship with te reo Māori… often gaining more accord offshore (think the haka) than onshore.

Now what would make this week less bizarre would be for the PM to greet the Press Gallery in te reo Māori again.

We’ll report back on that! *