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Broadcasters at odds over te reo
(Adrian Evans | NZ Herald) They are two of the best Maori broadcasters in New Zealand.
One thinks te reo Maori should be compulsory in schools. One disagrees.
Maori presenters Julian Wilcox (Nga Puhi, Te Arawa, Tuwharetoa) and Scotty Morrison (Ngati Whakaue) have been among New Zealand’s leading Maori media voices for the past decade.
Not surprisingly, they’ve both got strong views on the best way forward to revive te reo Maori.
Maori Television presenter Wilcox firmly believes compulsory teaching of the Maori language in schools will ensure its longevity.
“Compulsory teaching of the language in school is an answer to its survival. The problem is not the notion of making it compulsory; the problem is the political will to do so.
“Do we have a Government that has the will to do it?” asks Wilcox. “No we don’t, and that’s the issue.
“Above and beyond all that, every single citizen has a responsibility to learn the language. I’m not saying we should all be proficient and we should all be competent but we all have a responsibility to learn the language in some way, shape or form.”
In contrast, Television New Zealand presenter Morrison believes resources would be better directed to communities wanting to learn te reo and that creating Maori-speaking communities should be the objective.
“It’s more beneficial to put all your energies into people who have shown some passion for the language. The problem with compulsion sometimes is that when you make something compulsory, people tend to resist and that can be more detrimental to te reo, rather than giving it the assistance that it needs,” Morrison said.
“The key, I think, to reviving the language and making it a language of everyday conversation is to build a critical mass of Maori language speakers and Maori-speaking families.
“Identify those that are more passionate about it and throw a lot of resources into building their capacity.”
Morrison and Wilcox are at the forefront of Maori news and recognise the responsibility of their role as broadcasters, while appreciating its many grammatical nuances.
“The position we have as broadcasters is a huge one because not only are we trying to show that the language is a contemporary language with contemporary usage, we have to show everyone out there that this language can be used here and now,” says Wilcox.
“This isn’t a museum language.”
For Morrison, years of experience tell him things could be better in Maori broadcasting and that the issue is not whether the language will survive but more a matter of how it survives.
Morrison wears many hats as an exponent of te reo. He presents daily on iwi station Radio Waatea, in the day he lectures at Auckland’s Unitec where he is an adjunct professor of the language, and in the afternoons he presents TVNZ’s Maori news programme Te Karere.
“There is some good Maori language programming but I think those organisations involved need to ask what the language quality is delivered by this programme.
“The main issue is not that it will survive, although it’s endangered, but it’s the quality of te reo that is the issue. And when you talk in terms of quality language speakers there are probably only a handful of expert speakers of a very high quality,” says Morrison, who is also a graduate of the elite Maori language programme Te Panekiretanga, run by Professor Timoti Karetu and Wharehuia Milroy.
When it comes to defining the importance of te reo Maori, Wilcox is adamant about its centrality within New Zealand’s cultural compass.
“In terms of New Zealand as a country, this is our defining face. Sir James Henare always said the language is the moko; the exterior symbol of who we are as a people.
“Therefore, the only thing that differentiates New Zealand from every other country in the world is things Maori.”
Wilcox says contemporary cultural icons like the number-eight fencing wire attitude, rugby and pavlova reveal little about who we are as New Zealanders and that the only true defining characteristic we share as a nation is Maori culture.
“What do we do when we go overseas? We do a haka and everybody knows we’re from New Zealand and that all stems from the language.”
Morrison accepts people will find challenges when learning te reo but that one way is to immerse oneself in a Maori environment.
“It takes a while, you’ve got to live it and get amongst the Maori community. Rub shoulders with your native speakers and the recognised experts because then you start to emulate their style.
“It even starts to change the way you think and see things because interpreting things in te reo is a lot different to how you would interpret something using the English language. And that’s where you get the breakthrough.
“Many learners of te reo simply translate their thoughts and sentences into Maori but that’s not entirely right because you’re still thinking in a Pakeha way. To fully appreciate and communicate in te reo Maori, one must learn how to overcome the challenge of thinking like a Pakeha and begin to think in a Maori way that understands and embraces a Maori worldview.”