Te Ururoa Flavell, co-leader of the Maori Party, MP for the Waiariki district, Minister of both Whānau Ora and of Māori Development. He is not afraid to speak his mind—be it about Ratana and Labour, Willie Jackson, or challenging himself and others to use the reo as their preferred language. VICE called up the Minister and invited him to respond to our questions in te reo, in keeping with his intention to speak the Māori language whenever possible this year. Despite it being an official language of New Zealand, it's not so easy to do, even working in a place like Parliament. Only 3.7 percent of New Zealand's population are te reo speakers. The Minister chatted in te reo and English on the role language has in preserving culture and how New Zealanders can best honour this Waitangi Day.
VICE: Tēnā koe. What does Waitangi Day mean to you?
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, he nui whakaharahara te rā a Waitangi. Koira te rā, i tuku nei ki te taenga mai o te hunga, i mai tawhiti ki mua o Te Ao Māori. Ka mutu i atu o ngā tūpuna. He painga ngā ora haerenga ngā pai, me te hunga manuhiri. Ka mutu kei whakaaro atu rātou pōhēhē rānei. Ka noho tonu te āhuatanga mana motuhake o te rangatiratanga ki ō rātou ringaringa. Anei tātou tēnei tau, te whakahononga ai kua whawhati ētahi wā, engari kia kūata tātou i tēnei rangi tonu nei ki te tuitui o ngā whānaunga i waenganui i a tātou.
I think Waitangi Day is an important day for us as it marks the significance of the time that our tupuna thought there were some good things to be had from having a relationship with the visitors from overseas and vice-versa. They believed that their taonga would stay intact and that they would be in complete control of their resources and everything else that was in Aotearoa. We need to understand that. There was up to between 90,000 to 200,000 Māori and about 2,000 settlers, so I don't think there was any sort of view that sovereignty would be ceded, especially when you look at those numbers. There has been ups and downs over the years and treaty settlements are about settling that and also that we have an ongoing discussion about things such as the place of Te Reo Māori in New Zealand society. In the end, we focus on a combined nationhood and a desire to move forward with the spirit of the treaty relationship.
What is the best way for a New Zealander to pay honour to Waitangi Day?
There is need for an education process that allows us to have a better understanding of what Waitangi is all about. My history is as a teacher and I think there's a general lack of understanding about how it all came about. Simple things such as, would 200,000 Māori give their sovereignty to something like 2,000 settlers? I don't think so. Understanding that helps set the scene as to why Māori grievances are important. There's a huge amount of history in terms of what has happened in our country that is based in Waitangi Tribunal reports. Even the education system has not been in good in presenting that information to the nation as a whole.
In regards to moving forward in to the future, there is a role to be played in an education process and to educate New Zealander's every year about what it all means and to reflect on that history. Not to say that you must learn [something new] every year, but take the opportunity to reflect on Waitangi, our "National Day" and not just call it a national day, holiday, or just a chance to have a break, but to actually reflect on what it is all about and its meaning and history.
How has it been speaking the reo constantly this year?
Ko te kaupapa nui, he kaupapa whakahirahira nāku taku hoa rangatira. He whānau Maori taku ko tamariki katoa he reo Māori te reo. Koia nei te kaupapa nui te kaha ki te kōrero Māori. Pēnei taku haerenga mai kei konei kei rere wairua kei te noho tuturu nei ki roto i te reo Māori. Engari e kua nānā e whai ai tērā kaupapa.
This kaupapa is about my wife, myself, and our home environment being a Māori language environment. Our children are bilingual, but they've more or less left home now. My wife and I wanted to use our language. It's alright for my kids who are kura kaupapa kids, but for my wife and I who are in and out of English language environments such as Parliament, it's pretty hard. With a constant change of environment I get caught switching in and out of using Māori and at times it's difficult to stick with the kaupapa, but we're hanging in.
What are your thoughts on the Green Party's latest push for Te Reo to be compulsory in schools?
Orite te āhuatanga o tērā kōrero i te mea mai anō koia tēnei kaupapa nui mo Te Pāti Māori. E hara i te mea kōrero hou. Engari, he pai tonu e tautoko rātou te whainga Te Pāti Māori.
I'm pleased we've got support from the Green Party for a Māori Party policy. Having Māori as a compulsory subject in schools has long been one of our policies. I don't know what the big kerfuffle and controversy is all about, it's been one of our policies since day dot. Nevertheless, it's good to have them as supporters of the kaupapa.
Is it possible to understand a culture without understanding the language?
There's a saying, "Ko te reo te matapihi i Te Ao Māori"—"The language is the window into understanding and seeing the Maori worldview." Take a tangi for example, if you go to a tangi and you don't know what's being said in the language, it's very hard to understand what it's all about. I've always believed that for us to have an understanding of the Māori culture, you've got to have the language. You can feel certain things, but it's kind of hard to get that real feel that's needed, to get a good understanding of what happens in tikanga Māori.
That's why I am always encouraging our own people to step up to the mark. Some people talk about our language as not being spoken very well, but in actuality, we could speak it every day if we wanted to. We're not in Australia, we're not in the UK or China, we're actually in Aotearoa, where the language could be sustained with the number of speakers that we have. For those who think English would be lost, or we might start speaking gibberish or something like that—my children who are first language Māori-speakers, are also fluent in English—one's a doctor, another a teacher. There's never a fear that they won't get English. It's about the Māori language being a central component which is at the heart of how we do things as a people. That's where we've really got to focus.
Is it solely Māori who must take responsibility for educating people about the value of the language?
He wāhi anō ki tēnā ki tēnā kia tata te kawa pōhēhē ka noho tēnei āhuatanga ki roto i ngā ringaringa o ngā iwi. He wāhi ki te kāwanatanga, he wāhi ki ngā whānau, he wāhi ki Te Ao Maori.
Everybody has a part to play. Recently I tweeted about Dan the weatherman, on TVNZ One who has put in a real effort in to bettering his pronunciation. Radio NZ reporters have even been signing off with the reo, which is great. It's about making the nation aware that the Māori language is part of who we are. I mean, the Māori language has its footprint over every part of this country. Within 10kms of any place in this country, there are going to be Māori names. They've got history that is part of this land. Learning the correct pronunciation and history of those words should be part of our nationhood. It's got to be a fun language that we can enjoy, people can warm up to it and give it a go. That's where we are headed in the future.
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