If you’re on twitter you may have noticed that last night, Campbell Live was trending. Maybe you were even participating in the tweeting on the subject. Twitter was how I came to discover this story and it’s a story that I am fairly disappointed to have to acknowledge.
The opening story on Campbell Live last night was with Phil and Hayley Foster from Gisborne. The Foster’s contacted Campbell Live as they felt that it needed to be public knowledge that they were upset that their two year old daughter was learning te reo at pre school. They have made a complaint to the human rights commission and compared it to communism. I’m not sure if they quite understand how they’re making that connection, but they did. You can watch the full interview here, but for those of you who don’t want to watch 10 minutes of racism, the gist of the argument is that they don’t see why their daughter should be ‘made’ to learn te reo (e.g. numbers, colours, random words), or why the day care should acknowledge the fact that it is Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori – Maori Language week.
To me this shouldn’t even be an argument. Te Reo is an official language in New Zealand. It’s part of the curriculum. It only requires a week because it almost got stamped out and even at that, a week is just pc lip service. It should have been in common usage since 1840 as per the Treaty of Waitangi but of course colonisation was never going to let that happen. Colonisation is underwritten with the concept that one group of people are superior to the other and so Maori culture and te reo were squashed, stamped, beaten (quite literally) out of the population. Did you know that prior to the treaty European settlers had to learn te reo? They had to because they were outnumbered and if they wanted to wheel and deal here, they had to respect the people.
Of course it wobbles depending on what version of the treaty you use, but essentially the treaty set up Maori and Pakeha as partners, and te reo was protected under Article 2 of the treaty. We should have been speaking te reo the whole time, but with the Native Schools Act of 1858 came a ruling that schools would assist in the process of assimilation and come 1871 it was ruled that all schooling would be conducted in English only. It is on record that Maori children would be beaten for speaking te reo in schools. English was supposed to be the means by which Maori would learn how Europeans became great (and so become great themselves? That worked well). And so the language withered. Names were Anglicised and children were prevented from learning their native tongue because it would only get them in trouble.
Things began to change in the 60’s and 70’s as Maori began to demand that instead of ignoring the treaty as a nullity (Thanks, James Prendergast) that it be recognised in law and so in 1987 te reo became an official language. That’s a very meagre history of the scenario. But how does it fit into today?
Essentially in my opinion, New Zealand culture is founded on the coming together of Maori and European peoples. My own ancestry spreads from Hawaiiki across to Scotland, Ireland, Bohemia, I could go on. Even for those who have no Maori blood, you are still part of a land in which they play an essential part of the story. Think of it like in laws, you’re not related by blood but they’re still family. For this reason, the excuse, ‘But I’m not Maori, it’s not my culture’ is no excuse. You can have more than one culture, it’s called being culturally diverse, literate.
Furthermore te reo is everywhere, show us your puku anyone? Positing yourself as against te reo won’t work unless you leave the country. And no, that’s not offensive, or worth a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, because it’s true.
And finally another point – studies show that learning multiple languages is positive for your brain. It’s not going to hurt anyone to grow your culture a little outside of what is specifically in your blood. I mean we could be pedantic about it and limit the cuisine we eat to purely what’s in our blood. I’d be lucky on that score, but I’d miss out on Asian cuisines which would make me sad. But hey, if you want to limit yourselves to ‘Kiwi cuisine,’ bangers and mash, meat and three veg, well then, go ahead. I’m beginning to ramble a bit but do you see what I mean?
How ridiculous is it that this family is so caught up with their fear (I’m going to guess) or cultural deficit that they are going to posit themselves as against a major component of New Zealand society (50% of the population of their own home town.) It’s ridiculous but also disturbing, and you know what? It may make good air time, it definitely will be good for ratings, but it’s not good for our country. This sort of prime time, current affairs broadcasting only breeds hate and it’s disgusting.
We live in a multicultural society. We live in a multicultural world. And we can spend as much time as we want trying to shut out other people from our lives, or we can just accept things, be open to learning, be good people to each other and move on.
If you’re interested in this sort of thing I highly recommend reading this book by Michael King, Being Pakeha Now. It’s disturbing and wonderful and fascinating.
You can follow me on twitter @madicattt