Coming Home & Giving Back

Voices - 31 August 2016

Kristina Te Whata shares her thoughts about "keeping the home fires burning with local educational initiatives"

Kia ora koutou katoa, He mihi mahana ki a koutou i tēnei wā. Nōku te hōnore kia whakapāoho atu ki a koutou i ētahi o ā mātou mahi whakarauora mātauranga Māori i tā mātou takiwā i Te Tai Tokerau, me kii i tōku aku hapū, i tōku ake marae, i Tautoro, i te pito o te ao. 

Greetings to you all. It is my privilege to share with you all some of the local Māori educational initiatives from our area, our tribe, our marae and home of Tautoro, the centre of the universe. 

Teach First NZ and The University of Auckland expectations, on top of (yes it was) a full time job and a family to raise alone, was indeed an exceptionally difficult challenge to tackle, more than I had initially anticipated. Had I known the amount of struggle I would have gone through perhaps I would not have changed professions from tertiary teaching to secondary. Admittedly my previous ten years of work experience prior was a piece of cake in comparison (LOL). Regardless, however, of the pressures these commitments required we survived and there were many positives that can be relayed herein. One, notably, outside of all those other challenges mentioned was my involvement in a local educational initiative that educated me in more ways than one and perhaps truly saved me in the process.

It was well before I applied for TFNZ that I embarked on a personal journey to ensure that I was an active participant in my community, for my peoples wellbeing and advancement. Coming home, after living away in various parts of Aotearoa for 15 years in total, I was constantly drawn home and had a burning desire to ‘give back’ to my people. Additionally, I wanted to raise my three girls in an environment that would nurture their Māori language and culture at a more instrumentally personal and spiritual level and when we fortunately had that opportunity to return home (and things fell well into place) it was one of the happiest moments of my life. We were going home and I was intent on ensuring that we were going to learn as much as possible and give back to our whānau as much as possible.

As a passionate advocate of our treasured mother tongue, te reo Māori and my Māori culture are intrinsic parts of my DNA. It is the very essence of me and my identify, an outward symbol of being proud to be Māori. The Mā te Reo project, under Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori: The Māori Language Commission, has played a core part in bringing my dreams to fruition. Namely, it enabled us the opportunity to attain funds to help bring an educational initiative to life to aid revitalising our language at a local context.

Driven by the fact that I had learnt my ancestor’s language outside of my own hapū and iwi I quick smart learnt that another tribal dialect was not going to cut it in the home fronts with my karani and wider whānau. I knew that the only way I could really learn te reo from home was to go home, or, to access resources that had our unique language, stories and histories.

The Mā te Reo project, titled ‘Ko te Reo Waiātarere o Tautoro’, aimed to produce quality Māori language resources that were contextualised to the dialect of individuals (and/or within whānau) from ngā hapū o Tautoro. The key goals of the project included researching, collating and documenting te reo o te kāinga – via direct and indirect means – with the intent to compile a practical user-friendly te reo-ā-hapū based resource to be used as a part of a series or compendium (the first in an intended future extension) of our unique community language. 
The resource content principally aspired to celebrate, cultivate and enhance the continuation and application of our whānau and hapū centred terminology, proverbial sayings and/or phrases by way of deliberate collation and subsequent giving back to whānau within their homes, marae and the hapū from which they spring from. Moreover, revitalisation and retention of our home language was seen as instrumental to enhance the maintenance of our own cultural and educational practices within and for our special community.
Furthermore, creating a reo-ā-hapū centric language resource in itself was seen as both a highly useful and rare example for the wider whānau, hapū and iwi within the Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu region – due primarily to the fact that there was and is currently limited documentation of hapū based reo. Our resources aspired to help increase a wider awareness, understanding and analysis of our ‘mana reo-ā-hapū i te Tai Tokerau’.
All intents and purposes aside it was a lot of work involved to bring our project to life. A lot of work I absolutely loved doing and thrived on. I was a part of an educational initiative that would be instrumental in helping to document, revive and retain so many taonga that I had longed to learn about personally, that so many of our people too expressed a burning and heart felt desire to learn about and capture as well.

Despite the endless hours of work involved (including, for example, writing a sound application; finalising contracts, writing milestone, financial, final monitoring and evaluation reports; sorting and facilitating wānanga; ensuring advertising and promotion material was provided; sorting resource production; and, launching our resource in addition to delivering to whānau) I am happy to say that it was all so very worth it. Fortunately, as mad as it may seem to some, I am happily doing it all over again at present.

Yuss! We have been successful again in attaining more funds to create more resources. This new resource, title ‘Ko te reo Waikaramihi o Tautoro’, will be an additional extension of the previous resource, yet will be a much larger and substantial account of some of the treasures our whānau have to share for all to access. This new project will include a visual map of (and hīkoi to) significant local sites within Tautoro to restore the landmark names that are being lost, to biographies of our elders and the rich stories and unique language they have to share. Watch this space. 

In short, both projects are more about connecting whānau together through a common love for our local language, culture, stories and histories - our education. This knowledge is instrumental and essential for our children to know about, to continually be passed down from generation to generation and I look forward to further providing these resources in our local schools, marae and homes. Furthermore, hopefully (in time and with whānau consent) these resources can also be shared via electronic mediums to be accessible worldwide to especially target those that are displaced from their linguistic, social and/or geographical connections with (and/or from the surrounding areas of) Tautoro.

Lastly, the best part of leading these projects, alongside wonderful whānau and friends, is the coming home and giving back, the helping to keep the fires burning with local educational initiatives.

“Whāngaihia te reo wai-āta-rere o Tautoro kia ora ai mō ake tonu”
Share the language and stories of Tautoro to live on for ever

 Reo – language
 Hapū – subtribe
 Iwi – tribe
 Whānau - family
 Karani – elder/s
 Taonga – treasure
 Kāinga – home
 Mana – prestige
 Aotearoa – New Zealand
 Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu – Far North Tribe, North Island, Aotearoa
 Hīkoi – walk/trek

Further Information
If you would like to access further information about Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori: The Māori Language Commission and Mā te Reo please see the following link:
Note, due to the major changes with national Māori language initiatives and the introduction of ‘Te Matawai’ (a new governance organisation to be established following the passing of the recent Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill) the Mā te Reo funding pool will no longer be available.