Indigenous | Te Reo Māori

Huia Publishers’ world-stage award drives motivation to keep amplifying reo Māori

Huia Publishers has been awarded the prestigious 2024 Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publisher of the Year.

The award was made at the annual Bologna Book Fair in Italy this week. The largest book fair in Europe, it attracts thousands of publishers and authors from around the world.

Huia executive director Pania Tahau-Hodges said “getting this nod from our peers on this international stage is something really special and quite humbling, to be honest”.

“I think the recognition of this award is an acknowledgement of the hard work that our team here at Huia are doing. We’ve got an amazing whānau here at Huia, who work really hard to ensure we’re working towards our vision of sharing the stories and aspirations of Aotearoa.”

She said the independent Māori-owned publishing entity’s core value through its kaupapa over the past 33 years in the publishing business, producing over 1000 children’s books, and resources, was committing to the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

Tahau-Hodges (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tūhoe) leads the established creative entity alongside her business partner Eboni Waitere (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne).

Vision has ‘stayed the same’

“Huia Publishers was established by the wonderful Robyn Bargh in 1991. Robyn established Huia at the time because there was not a lot of publications coming out where we as Māori saw ourselves, saw our lived experiences, our realities, our aspirations and experiences reflected on our literary landscape.”

She said the vision had stayed the same today and that they created a lot of resources for kura kaupapa Māori, kura-a-iwi, other schools and settings where Māori language was the language of instruction or was taught.

“We’re committed to ensuring our tamariki have access to a broad range of Māori language texts and books. We do everything from graphic novels, picture books, chapter books, novels.

You know, we try to ensure our tamariki and our rangatahi are exposed to a broad range of Māori language texts so that they have a rich literacy experience.”

She said it was important as a society that children learned new vocabulary, that they were exposed to new ideas through books, through literature and that was a big focus for Huia.

“My experience has been that it’s quite common for people to have what I think is quite a limited perspective about what Māori storytelling or indigenous storytelling can be. That’s my experience overseas when we talk about indigenous storytelling or I ask people to show me their indigenous stories.”

‘Protecting mātauranga Māori’

Tahau-Hodges said that led to people storytelling on how their grandparents were stopped from speaking their native language at schools, were taken from their home, put in missionary-run schools and removed from their community.

She said with artificial intelligence on the rise in the publishing industry, that was something Huia had looked at closely, looking at the opportunities and also the challenges it brought.

“I’m talking about how we, as a Māori publishing house, can continue to protect mātauranga Māori, how we can protect the integrity of te reo Māori. We are committed to ensuring that our creators of mātauranga Māori, protectors of mātauranga Māori, the mātauranga Māori, mātauranga āiwi itself is protected, that the integrity of those things are ensured.”

Tahau-Hodges said Huia strove to reflect really diverse lived experiences, and wanted kids to have really creative and inspiring stories.

“We want them to know our pūrākau (Indigenous myths and legends), but we also want them to have sci-fi fantasy, crime, mystery and adventure, all of them. We want our kids to have all of those things.”

‘Seeing themselves reflected’

Tahau-Hodges said that in the realm of children’s literature, Māori voices, Indigenous voices children in children’s literature were a crucial guide for shaping narratives that reflected cultural heritage and identity.

“That’s really key for our tamariki, our mokopuna, that they see themselves reflected in the pages of the books that they read, that they see their whānau, that they see their communities, their lived experiences in the books that they’re enjoying.”

She said by doing this, seeing their reo in these books, it said something to them about their identity, it says something to them about the value of their culture, of their reo.

Tahau-Hodges said those are important things for tamariki and mokopuna to see, and to see themselves in a positive light, in a way, in a space that they enjoy and that they can engage in, where they can feel inspired and motivated.

“Those are important things. Children’s literature has an important part to play in shaping our rangatira of tomorrow.”

She said there are so many beautiful things that could be reflected through the use of te reo Māori language that were unique and wouldn’t necessarily translate the same way in any other language.

‘Our way of knowing’

“You know, our reo is so integral to who we are as Māori. It reflects our way of knowing, of being, of understanding our world. Our reo is part of sharing who we are as a people.”

Tahau-Hodges said she acknowledged the work being done in keeping the Māori language alive at a personal level.

“Quoting Whatarangi Winiata, who, you know, talks about how it takes five generations for whānau to reclaim their reo if they’ve lost it. It’s not something that can necessarily be carried by one person, it’s, , generations that need to be involved in reclaiming our reo in a whānau.”

She said that at Huia Publishers, one of the things they try to do is produce works that are longer Māori language texts, novels in te reo Māori.

“Our perspective, from what we see, is that there’s definitely an increase in the number of Māori language publications for people, who perhaps have a very starter level proficiency, who might be just starting on their journey.

“For those people, especially our kura kaupapa, kura iwi, kids who’ve been through immersion language education, books for that audience, there’s not many publishers at all that are producing novels in te reo Māori and that’s a gap that Huia tries to fill.

Challenges but determination

Tahau-Hodges said she understood there were challenges over the commercial viability of producing these kinds of works.

“But if we are to continue supporting this generation of kura and kōhanga kids that are coming through and have the proficiency to be able to read Māori language novels and things like that, that’s the way we’re going to do it.”

She said the audience that Huia needed to provide for, Huia had to keep feeding them, keep providing them, nurturing them with te reo, so that they can continue to build te reo Māori and help it evolve in a way that’s going to make it a living language for generations of the future.

Tahau-Hodges said Huia wants to use the recognition from the award as an opportunity to not only promote, uplift and highlight their authors, in particular the Huia authors but Māori writers in general. “We are conscious that this is a big deal for Indigenous storytelling.

“We want to use this platform to be able to hold space for other Indigenous peoples as well in the publishing industry, because it’s a hard space, you know. Our Pākehā peers, Pākehā publishers in Aotearoa tell us, they acknowledge that, you know, it’s a very Pākehā industry.”

Te Rito