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Pākehā asked to be aware of ‘privilege’ as demand for te reo grows

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Jennifer Ward Lealand.

Demand for Kura Reo and te reo Māori on the whole is growing around Aotearoa and many non-Māori are lending their voices to the revitalisation of te reo.

But new learners are being cautioned to understand the privilege they are being given alongside Māori reclaiming their own identity.

Theatre and film actor/director Jennifer Ward-Lealand heard about Kura Reo while taking night classes, which she said in no way prepared her for a full immersion environment.

“I was certainly not ready for that experience, I don’t know what I was thinking that I was possibly able to cope in that. However, I did it, and after about three days I think I was laughing and crying at the same time.”

At a Kura Reo you don’t just pick up the language but also the tikanga of being on a marae from taking part in the powhiri, karakia and mihi, she said.

“You see that te reo and tikanga go hand in hand, kei te hoa haere ngā mea e rua.”

Ward-Lealand said Kura Reo was incredibly valuable to someone on a reo journey, and can motivate people to improve but they also provide the luxury of time spent in a reo-only environment.

Students from Whangarei Girls High School led Whangarei's first Te Wiki o te Reo Maori parade in 2018.
Students from Whangarei Girls High School led Whangarei’s first Te Wiki o te Reo Maori parade in 2018.

She’s had the fortune of learning from the creme de la creme of te reo teachers, including Sir Tīmoti Karetu and the late Te Wharehuia Milroy.

The pair even gifted Ward-Lealand a Māori name, Te Atamira, meaning “the stage”, a nod to her theatrical roots.

“At the time when I was given the name I didn’t really feel worthy enough but it made me strive even harder and I use that anytime that I do speak te reo Māori on te atamira, on the stage… to live up to the name.”

She said the name was part of a responsibility to use her stage, her atamira, to promote te reo – something she takes very seriously.

Jo Pannell took up te reo after moving from her native South Africa so her children would be steeped in the culture of her new home country.

“For me having having grown up in a country like South Africa where I didn’t have the opportunity to learn an indigenous language I always felt the loss of that, and I still do now actually even though I haven’t been there for 25 years and I thought to myself I just wasn’t going to let that happen again when I got to New Zealand.”

She said it has been a life changing experience, and has helped her understand Māori culture and tikanga better.

“The only way to understand and to participate in a culture is to learn the language, it’s the door through which you need to walk.”

Pannell said Kura Reo were very intimidating for learners but she urged them not to give up.

“You are immersed in the rhythms of te ao Māori, ao noa pō noa, that really is the true value of something like a Kura Reo.”

Pannell said learning te reo as a Pākehā or tauiwi obviously was not the same as Māori, but she said it has been wonderful to share in the journey of her Māori friends who were reclaiming their language.

At her first Kura Reo Ward-Lealand was one of very few Pākehā, but recently she has noticed an increasing interest from non-Māori.

But Pākehā learners need to be aware that Māori bring a different set of baggage when learning te reo as a second language, she said.

“I’m also very aware that we don’t take up the spaces for tangata whenua. I think it’s very easy for [non-Māori] to go ‘well I want to learn, good I’ll go to this thing’ but there are also Māori who need to learn and I think it’s something that we need to remember that for many people their language was taken away from them.

“As a Pākeha I don’t bring any of that baggage, yes I bring the challenges of learning a language absolutely, but I didn’t get my language taken away from me.”

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