Canterbury sports staff say it's 'incredible' to learn te reo Māori

By Kelvin McDonald

Canterbury rugby and cricket staff are enjoying the chance to learn te reo Māori in a supportive whānau environment.

Staff working in the sports have been participating in Māori language classes in Canterbury through a partnership with South Island polytech, Ara.

"We live in a multicultural country and to be able to represent New Zealand/Aotearoa with meaning and understanding is hugely important,” says Rebecca Archibald, a Canterbury rugby union administrator.

Originally, from the Northern Hemisphere, Archibald was one of seven staff from the rugby union who took part in te reo classes last year.

She says it was a new but deeply satisfying experience. 

“Growing up in the UK, I’ve never been exposed to learning te reo previously, so it was incredibly useful to be able to learn more about the language, its structure and also some Māori history," she says.

This year, nearly 150 staff from Canterbury businesses have enrolled in Māori language courses at Ara, the South Island's largest vocational training institute. 

Ara's Hemi Hoskins says more people are realising the value of learning about Māori language and culture. 

“I believe we are in a time where, more and more, we are seeing people realise the positive benefits of te reo in our lives,” says Hoskins, who heads the humanities department. 

“We are seeing a marked shift in people seeing how te reo and knowledge about te ao Māori contributes positively to them, their business and us as a nation."

Sarah Munro, HR manager for Canterbury Rugby Union, is another who has enjoyed learning the language.

“I feel confident and proud to be able to understand basic language and utilise greetings," she says. "It was fascinating to learn more about the culture and heritage behind the language and why it is important for our future generations.

"It’s really made me appreciate and respect the Māori language and the value that it brings to both the workplace and our personal lives,” she says.

The rugby union is currently looking at opportunities for staff to undertake further te reo lessons this year and is also considering offering their wider club rugby community the chance to learn the language.

The union says it is interested in supporting its people to learn te reo because it promotes diversity and helps staff better connect with the community.

"This was a CRFU initiative aligning with our Diversity & Inclusion strategy and utilising the CRFU partnership with Ara.  It helps our people connect with their communities, including sponsors and fans," a spokesperson for the union says.

Cricket staff are among the other sporting groups in Canterbury interested in learning te reo. 

Mike Harvey, general manager of Christchurch Metro Cricket Association, says they have two staff members from their association and eight from Canterbury Cricket that will participate in a two-day Māori language course next month.

Harvey considers it important for reasons of "social and cultural awareness" to learn te reo and says that "as an organisation, we see great benefit to our staff in increasing cultural knowledge".

The interest that these two Canterbury sporting codes have shown in the language reflects a growing enthusiasm in the South Island for learning te reo, as Christchurch restaurant Fush discovered after offering free te reo classes that attracted more than 600 people. 

"Our original plan was to host small sessions in our restaurant Fush, but we ended up having hundreds of people at each class so had to relocate. It was awesome,” says owner Anton Mathews.

It's led the restaurant to spread the lessons around the South Island. 

"To Kaikōura, to Nelson, to the West Coast, to Dunedin, to Wakatipu, to Invercargill, to all areas of the South because since the start of this initiative we’ve had people contacting us, asking us to take the kaupapa to them," he says.