Te Rongopai me te Tiriti o Waitangi
Barbara Cowan RSJ
In a workshop in which I participated some time ago, the following question was asked: If a group of aliens were to arrive in this land and begin to take over our various institutions – our schools, our hospitals, and many others, what would I most want to protect of my culture?
Among participants, our language was unanimously considered to be one of the most important values over which we would not want to lose continuing use and control.
In Māoridom there are two proverbs:
Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori – The language is the heart and soul of the mana of Māoridom.
Ka ngaro te reo, ka ngaro taua, pera i te ngaro o te Moa – If the language be lost, people will be lost, as dead as the Moa.
You might ask, ‘what has this got to do with gospel justice?’ In St John’s Gospel, Chapter 10, Jesus tells the pharisees the parable of the good shepherd, within which we hear that:
One by one the shepherd calls his own sheep and leads them out from the sheepfold. When he has brought out his flock he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice.
But the pharisees failed to understand what Jesus meant by this story. So he spoke to them again, and said, ‘I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness’ – life given with abounding generosity.
In Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi iwi, hapu, all Māori people of this land, are guaranteed continuing te tino rangatiratanga, complete self-determination over all their possessions, their taonga, everything that is held precious.
In the debate leading up to the passing of The Māori Language Act 1987, the Waitangi Tribunal concluded that ‘Language is an essential part of culture and must be regarded as “a valued possession”’, a taonga.
This makes it clear that if language is an essential part of culture, a value that enables an individual, a family, whanau, society, a nation to live and celebrate life in all its fullness, it is necessary that everything possible be done to ensure the language continues to live.
This takes me back to my workshop experience where the participants, mostly people who were not of Māori descent, agreed that ‘our language’ is a value we would not be willing to abandon, to be overridden by another language to the extent that our own particular language was lost.
We would expect that the visitors would learn to communicate with us firstly in our language and then, over time, we could well be the better educated and our experience extended by knowing our language and that of the visitors.
This being so, language, te reo, is of the essence in enabling people to live life in all its fullness. This is what Jesus came to give with abounding generosity. It seems clear that the gospel is at the heart of the recognition of both Māori and English as official languages in this country.
We can say then that those who profess to be followers of Jesus will, as a matter of justice, not only recognise te Reo Māori as an official and an essential language in this country, but will also protect and promote this language, especially for Māori.
Justice demands of us, not simply a passive acceptance of this reality, in other words, ‘let it happen’. It demands active support and availability of resources, abounding generosity to enable our official languages, written, spoken and sign, to be embraced by all who wish to learn, use, develop and benefit from them.
This year, Te Wiki o Te Reo, Māori Language week is to be 24-28 July. This is an opportunity for all of us to increase our knowledge and usage of te reo. We can make a start by using the greeting ‘kia ora’ or ‘ka kite’ when saying goodbye.
The Māori Language Commission has helpful resources at reasonable prices. Their slogan is: ‘Give it a go’. Korero Māori.