National | Māori Language

Pioneering Māori language programme celebrates 30 years

The University of Waikato’s pioneering total immersion Māori language programme, Te Tohu Paetahi, is celebrating 30 years since its establishment with more than 1600 students supported on their te reo Māori journey.

Te Tohu Paetahi has been a trailblazer for the revitalisation of te reo Māori since 1991, producing students from all walks of life including District Court Judge Stephen Clark, Dr Reuben Collier MNZM, who started his career as a journalist at Waka Huia and went on to found Maui TV Productions, and Master Chef winners Karena and Kasey Bird.

The acting dean for the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, Associate Professor Sandy Morrison, was part of the first cohort to complete the one-year course in 1991 and says it is unique in New Zealand.

Students enter the course at different levels of fluency, from those who have little knowledge of the language to those who are fluent speakers.

“It is an intensive course running 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday every week. There are no other courses offered like it in universities around Aotearoa,”  Morrison says.

“People come to the course for different reasons. For some, it is for professional development including judges, lawyers and teachers who use it as a vehicle to engage more meaningfully with their clients but it has a wider impact than that.

Huge commitment

"We are helping to connect people back to their culture,” Morrison says.

Deputy vice-chancellor Māori Dr Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai says the increasing popularity of the course across both Hamilton and Tauranga campuses is a testament to the foresight of those who established it 30 years ago.

“It’s a huge commitment for students, particularly those who have no language at all but the way the course is delivered by experienced, committed and award-winning teaching staff means it can bring all levels and people from all walks of life on their te reo journey.”

Morrison said the need and passion for learning te reo was increasing in New Zealand as people sought to reconnect with their culture or learn the indigenous language.

“Understanding te reo Māori is to widen one’s knowledge and understanding into a Māori worldview and a New Zealand worldview, which is a start to creating a more inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.”