This blog has been written for Business Mentors New Zealand by Amokura Panoho. Amokura is a Māori business leader and facilitator of our Māori Business World View Workshops
“Ko te reo, te mauri o te Mana Māori”; The language is the life force of Māori.
In 1985, these words of highly respected Tai Tokerau (Northland) kaumatua (elder) Sir James Henare were spoken to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1985 to reinforce the integral value of Māori language, Te Reo Māori.
Under the Māori Language Act 1987, the government established Te Taura Whiri o Te Reo, the Māori Language Commission, to promote the use of Māori as a living language and as an ordinary means of communication. Now, the language has more visibility and validity. Te Reo Māori is naturally finding its way into more and more businesses across the country.
Te Reo Māori provides tangible benefits to our economy that could not be replicated if it was lost. This was evidenced in research by Waikato University as reported by Te Taura Whiri in 2017. In other words, Te Reo Māori is of value to everybody, not just Māori. Te Reo Māori is something unique to Aotearoa that can be shared, it can shape the way we do business, and it can support the development of brands, giving products an edge in a highly competitive global market.
Dr Matthew Roskruge, Sandy Morrison, and Te Kahautu Maxwell prepared research on Measuring the value of the contribution of Māori language and culture to the New Zealand economy. It supported work done by Te Rau Ora, the national Māori Health Workforce agency with a focus on their sector. They found an increase in opportunities to learn Te Reo Māori in the workplace, and in engagement with Māori, generating great benefits and insights into, “the importance of Te Reo me ōna tikanga as the heart and soul of Māoridom.
The number of Te Reo speakers across the country is growing quickly. Soon, graduates of immersion schools set up in the 1980s will become future tribal leaders, business entrepreneurs and politicians; bi-lingual, educated, and proud of their identity.
Te Reo Māori is moving into the mainstream. A record number of teenagers are studying Te Reo Māori at secondary school. These proactive policies will influence the future shape of business too. Major companies like Vodafone and Air New Zealand have embraced the use of Te Reo Māori and lead others in our presence across global markets.
For Business Mentors keen on navigating and undertaking this journey, it can be both appealing and daunting. It’s important to understand that for many Māori the process can be even more daunting; I count myself among that number.
‘Whakamā’ is the most appropriate Māori term to use for our sense in this undertaking. It can describe the feeling when we, as Māori, are put under the spotlight about our language and culture beyond the privacy of our home.
‘Whakamā’ has no western equivalent, but it can perhaps be understood in the context of shame, self-abasement, a feeling of inferiority, inadequacy or self-doubt. An individual may show excessive modesty, shyness, and withdrawal from certain social settings to ensure their limited ability and experience is not obvious.
Michael Durie of Ngati Kahungunu / Ngati Kauwhata and Tainui descent is a Business Mentor and relates to these ideas. He explains that finding one’s cultural identity can be a very personal and unique experience.
“Everyone is at a different place. In the past, speaking Te Reo Māori was often discouraged, so some of us have to learn it as complete beginners. It’s a journey that goes far beyond learning words. Instead, it’s about reconnecting. As part of a holistic process, building your language proficiency can contribute to your overall wellbeing and empowerment.”
There are many contributing factors to why many Māori find learning their language challenging. That’s why many tools that are being promoted during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori seek to remove any barriers. Many of these activities are happening online and can be found here.
Michael is full of encouragement for fellow Business Mentors and their Mentees. He says that if they’d like to learn more about Te Reo, or bring it into their relationships with businesses, then authenticity matters. The principles of good mentoring are equally valuable in this endeavour.
“First and foremost, focus on listening,” Michael suggests. “Don’t ever feel forced to follow a check box approach. Instead, start small, ask questions, make it a priority to build confidence. The benefits are incredible relationships and seeing things from a new perspective.
I’m equally supportive and sum up by offering assurance to those ready to learn more about Te Reo Māori.
“Just remember, when you take the first step you are not alone.”