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A taonga for all New Zealanders? How well are Māori doing amidst the te reo boom?

Dr Kiri Dell teaching the importance of community self-determination at University of Auckland. Image: Supplied

Fifty years on from the delivery of the Māori Language Petition, Pākeha engagement with te reo Māori has exploded. While positive for revitalisation of the language, perceived unequal resource allocation favouring Pākehā, and continuing barriers for Māori to access te reo seem to be emerging. Dr Kiri Dell of Waipapa Taumata Rau the University of Auckland will investigate the many facets and implications for Aotearoa becoming a te reo speaking nation


Published on 3 Whiringa-ā-rangi November 2022

Normalising te reo Māori is a strategy viewed by many language revitalisation experts as essential for its survival. As a consequence of efforts towards normalisation, the uptake of te reo by non-Māori speakers has increased significantly. However, adverse psychological implications for Māori wellbeing are surfacing and becoming increasingly apparent as well-known non-Māori receive accolades for embracing and using te reo. Examples include fluent te reo speaker New Zealander of the Year 2020 Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand, media icon and champion of te reo usage Jack Tame, and global pop star Lorde’s te reo Māori translated EP.

Vitally, Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) relationships with te reo differ. Via birthright, Māori relate to te reo for access to land, authority to act on whānau/hapū/iwi issues, and rights regarding marae politics. However, fewer than 20% of Māori can speak the language confidently, and some Māori feel marginalised by current revitalisation efforts, perceiving them as focussed on Pākehā accessing, speaking, and using te reo Māori. Dr Kiri Dell has been awarded a Marsden Fast-Start grant to analyse Māori wellbeing in relation to the efforts of normalising te reo, drawing on media engagement as a window to understanding evolving Pākehā-Māori relationships.


Dr Kiri Dell, Waipapa Taumata Rau the University of Auckland. Image: Supplied

Using a unique methodology termed Kaupapa Māori Discourse Analysis (KMD), Dr Dell will analyse large amounts media, including social media. She will look at both affirming and opposing content, written by many contributors, all reacting to public reporting of high-profile Pākehā and non-Māori consumption of te reo. This analysis will help Dr Dell and her team understand how Māori identities are constructed and maintained in relation to te reo and the ways their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and general wellbeing are affected. Interviews will also inform understandings of the many facets of te reo identities, which will enable researchers to further centre Māori voices. In a society dominated by Pākeha culture, hearing and prioritising the wellbeing of those whose language is being celebrated, is an important step in the journey to becoming a truly bicultural, bilingual Aotearoa.