Te Reo Māori in the workplace

Ki te kore tātou e kōrero Māori, ka ngaro te reo
Ka ngaro te reo, ka ngaro ngā tikanga
Ka ngaro ngā tikanga, ka ngaro tātou ki te Ao
Ko te reo te kaipupuri i te Māoritanga

Koru newTe Reo Māori is the cornerstone of all that is Māori.

Te Reo Māori is the medium through which Māori explains the world.

The survival of the people as Māori and the uniqueness of Māori as a race will be enhanced through the maintenance of Te Reo Māori.

In 2015, it was reported that prime minister John Key left a Waiuku College student in tears, after a comment he made about Te Reo Māori.

Key later clarified his comments stating that he had simply said that if Te Wiki O Te Reo were to be extended from a week to a month, he felt this could potentially ‘dilute’ the intensity of Māori language week.

One wonders what such a position might mean coming from the country’s highest-ranked public servant, given this position’s oversight of Te Reo’s significance as an integral part of Māori identity – an identity that is constant, always pertinent, and cannot simply be switched off at whim.

Is the future of Te Reo to be limited to an annual language week, lest we risk ‘diluting’ it? Te Reo is a pertinent component of Māori identity and their navigation of the world; whether it be in the home with whānau, at school as a child learning about the world, or as an employee working in the public sector of a bicultural New Zealand.

Te Reo Māori at work

A recent study by Victoria University found that 12.5% of PSA members speak Te Reo either well or fairly well, with at least 37.9% interested in using it in the workplace, and 26% stating that their employers have included Te Reo in their organisations’ strategy.

These numbers of Maori-speaking PSA members are in stark contrast to the general population of which less than 4% speak Te Reo.

One of the organisations that have firmly embedded Māoritanga in their organisational structure is the NZQA.

“We use Te Reo with our team members and in our work… it’s extremely important in the work that we do,” says PSA member Kimiora McAllister from NZQA, who works on developing and supporting Te Reo and Te Ao Maori across the NZQA’s subject frameworks.

A part of the NZQA’s strategic direction includes ensuring a culturally appropriate responsiveness to Māori learners, achievable by increasing NZQA’s internal understandings of Te Reo and tikanga.

Everyone wins

Bringing Māoritanga into the workplace is not simply about striving for better outcomes for learners.

For Māori who work within the sector, being able to use Te Reo outside the home and in the workplace shows manaakitanga, says McAllister. “Being able to use Te Reo [in the workplace]…it’s a very important part of Māori identity – of my identity.”

“People being able to use their own languages – all people, not just Māori… it breaks down barriers and discrimination,”

Various studies have shown high levels of cohesion and job satisfaction in employees who feel their own languages and cultures are not simply tolerated, but actively embedded in workplace practices and organisational culture.

These findings suggest that rather than diluting Te Reo or its mana, organisations that incorporate Te Reo in the workplace have found it rewarding for both their Māori service users and employees who feel less obliged to temporarily ‘shed’ parts of their identity while
at work.

Reshaping organisations

“People being able to use their own languages – all people, not just Māori… it breaks down barriers and discrimination,” says George Jahnke from Hauora Tairāwhiti – formerly known as Tairāwhiti DHB, a name change which supported the recent change in the organisation’s kaupapa to be more representative of the Tairāwhiti district.

“I’m very supported in using Te Reo… Hauora Tairāwhiti supports staff not only in using Te Reo, but also in learning it.”

As part of the organisation’s updated kaupapa, Jahnke said that Hauora Tairāwhiti is active in incorporating Te Reo and tikanga at all levels, including among non-Māori staff who are also supported in learning Te Reo – including CEO, Jim Green.

“[Te Reo is] important to the entire organisation and our work in the Tairāwhiti District where Māori make up about 50% of the local population.”

Living biculturalism

To be able to use Te Reo in the workplace unifies Māori workers’ cultural identity with their day-to-day lives – something that has not typically been easy for Maori given historic attempts to stamp out the language entirely.

And contrary to fears of language ‘dilution’, Te Reo does not become any less meaningful or important if it is used more widely.
Te Reo is not a monument that should be reserved for museums and formal occasions when we feel obliged to acknowledge our bicultural treaty partnership. Instead, greater inclusion of Te Reo in the New Zealand public sphere – in the workplace – goes beyond mere maintenance of Te Reo’s survival.

It is a crucial means of normalising a piece of the living, breathing culture that forms one half of New Zealand’s bicultural partnership.

By Leah Damm