“To be able to speak the language my ancestors spoke is a treasure for me.
“I didn’t grow up with the language - I came to it quite late. My grandparents spoke fluent Māori but they were of the generation that was punished for speaking it. They spoke Māori to their children but they were expected to reply in English and mainly English was spoken as I was growing up.
“As a very young person, I went to a pōwhiri and not one of my group was able to respond – I remember thinking ‘That will not happen to me again, I am going to learn the language’. That was one of the experiences that prompted my decision to learn.
“I had been working in Wellington but then I home to Whanganui where I enrolled at the polytech for a one year full-time course studying Māori.
“The interesting thing was that the more I learnt of the language, many more aspects of my upbringing made sense to me – like all the gatherings we would go to. I realised that while we may not have spoken the language, it was a very Māori upbringing.
“Learning Māori had a very strong impact on me. I remember the first time I sat through a meeting conducted in Māori and could understand what people were actually talking about. That was quite a moment – and I remember having quite a few of those moments.
“My nephew lived with me for a while. He was in a bilingual class at school and it was a privilege to be able to help him with his learning and know that was helping to safeguard the future of the language. I strongly support the theme of Māori Language Week to support parents to support their children in learning te reo.
“I encourage parents to learn with their children. That will support your chlidren’s language development and it is never too late to learn for yourself. I am still learning, after 20 years.”