Pacific | Tokelau

Gritty 30-year journey in Aotearoa for guardians of Tokelau language

Mother Feagai Fo'ai, Daughter Sulata Foa'i-Amiatu and Father Foa'i Foa'i.

Feagai and Foa’i Foa’i, the founders of Mataliki Tokelau Akoga Kamata, have turned a dream into a thriving institution.

It’s a story of dedication and perseverance that has unfolded as the country celebrates Tokelau Language Week.

It honours a husband and wife who arrived in Aotearoa from the Pacific Island of Tokelau three decades ago.

Feagai Foa’i and Foa’i Foa’i, the founders of Mataliki Tokelau Akoga Kamata (Tokelau pre-school), have turned a dream into a thriving institution that has safeguarded the Tokelau language for over 25 years.

Mataliki’s story began when wife Feagai Foa’i, co-founder of Mataliki, recalled.

“In the beginning, our preschool operated in garages. Those days were difficult; we didn’t have a preschool building.”

‘It could be easy ...’

Many challenges marked the early days, yet their commitment to preserving the culture through education propelled them forward.

The seed for Mataliki was sown in husband Foa’i Foa’i’s mind when the couple arrived on Tāmaki Makarau shores.

“The idea was conceived in 1980 to establish our preschool. My wife often attended early childhood workshops.

She would return with information sheets from the course, place them on the table, and I would read them, and I thought, ‘Oh, it could be easy to initiate a preschool.’”

Today, Mataliki stands as the sole educational provider for the Tokelau language in Aotearoa.

It has come a long way from starting a daycare inside their home garage.

100 students

Its commitment to preserving Tokelau culture is now touching the lives of more than 100 children who are enrolled from a variety of Pacific backgrounds.

Sulata Foa’i-Amiatu, the daughter of the founders, now manages the pre-school.

She champions her parents’ commitment to the school.

“In between working full-time jobs, they decided that they were going to do this and so they started the playgroup out of our family garage, which meant I couldn’t wag high school anymore.

“Over the years, we’ve moved from community house to community house, different pre-fabs across South Auckland, churches, and church halls, and now we’re blessed to secure this place here.”

Mataliki Tokelau Akoga Kamata’s location in Māngere, besides Aorere Park in Auckland, wasn’t always a safe haven.

Parties in the carpark

Foa’i said there were some unpleasant times.

“At night parties were held outside the property in the car park; it was so bad we were scared at that time.”

Feagai said they endured countless challenges to secure a stable environment for their school, but their dedication remained firm.

“Our people don’t know what we’ve been through. It was tough. We had our own place to live but we did what we could to have something for Tokelau,” she says.

The school has trouble finding Tokelauan staff but those who don’t know the language learn from their colleagues who do.

“We have 29 staff, 21 are Tokelaua,n and even those who are not Tokelauan a number of them speak Tokelauan or because we use the language here so often they’re familiar with the language or are able to gain or navigate their way through.”

Her parents’ relentless efforts have paved the way for the preservation of the Tokelau culture, setting a shining example for future generations in Aotearoa.

This year’s theme for Te Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau is “Ke Olatia ko ia Tokelau I tana Fakavae - Tokelau to Prosper Within its Foundation”.