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Ngātiawa Kaumatua

In a process which is thought to be the first in the country, Ngātiwai have worked with all of their 14 marae to develop Te Kupenga Reo o Ngātiwai - a programme linked to their Tikanga and Te Reo Strategy aimed at revitalising and normalising their language and tikanga across the rohe.

Ngātiwai is the iwi of the east coast of Northland. According to the census it has a population of around 5,000 uri, but a considerable number of their people are not recorded as Ngātiwai. Their ancestral lands are both onshore and offshore, including many small rocky islands as well as larger ones such as Āotea (Great Barrier).

The language revitalisation process began several years ago - listening to the aspirations, needs and ideas of the people of each marae. A group managing the process then designed an approach, and they are now piloting a programme at two marae: one in the far north of the rohe and another at the southern end.

Aperahama Kerepeti-Edwards has been helping to lead the process from the beginning:

“There has been a declining population of tuturu [high level] te reo speakers within the Ngātiwai tribal domain. High level kōrero or oratory is used at all gatherings…. At the moment it is still relatively strong, but we could see that we needed a succession plan, instead of waiting for a complete loss. So we developed this programme linked to our wider strategy.

“We call it Te Kupenga Reo o Ngātiwai. We took the name from a tribal saying - Ngā poitō maha o te kupenga o Toi-te-hua-tahi. This korero refers to the offshore islands from Motukōkako through to Āotea. Our iwi members are not standalone islands, they are connected through whakapapa, custom, culture, reo and tikanga, similar to the net floats of Toi. Kupenga is a net, and we see our net stretching across the rohe. We have many off-shore homes along the coastline, islands adjacent to our coast. We see the islands as the floaters of the net. It is a safety net that will capture all our people and ensure our reo and tikanga are kept alive.

“At the moment there are parts of the rohe which have retained our reo. It is still very strong. In other areas there are almost no native speakers left. So it is about propping up all of the territory.

Ngatiwai Kaumatua“Our belief is that language underpins our uniqueness, our stories, our world view. There are differences between tribal languages. There are dialectal differences and within that our language has come about because of our unique environment - the places that our ancestors occupy, and the activities that have taken place there. This has produced our own distinctive, descriptive language.

“We launched the strategy earlier this year and now the pilots are underway.

“The programme is wānanga based. At each of the two marae where it is being piloted twenty-five people have been selected, men and women kaumatua and a group of young people who we see as part of our succession plan. They come to weekend wānanga and intensive week long wānanga. At the week-long wānanga it is total immersion te reo Māori for the whole week. Kitchen staff, everyone only speaks te reo 24/7. All the interactions are in te reo. The idea is to enable people to use what little reo they have and build off that.

“We don’t want to just focus on the language alone, or on the different roles in terms of how they are presented, but build a deeper understanding and connection to our language and tikanga so that it is normalised again. So that our tikanga becomes everyday practice, from simple things like the way we greet each other - the different types of greetings - and protocols like leaving our shoes at the door.

“It is so enriching and the feedback we have had from our participants is that they value it beyond measure. Many have felt that they have had to perform tikanga related rites and felt underprepared and anxious. Now they have confidence. It is empowering and also, because the learning is specific to our own identity, it is very fulfilling. You get a sense of aroha and all this permeates through the whānau – and they get a sense of pride and fulfilment as well. They become clear and grounded in their identity. So in the end hapū and the whole iwi will benefit.

“Our approach is very unique. Nobody else is doing this so we have had other tribal groups asking to observe. They are interested in developing something similar.”