Hemi Kelly's journey to helping others on their reo Māori journey

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Hemi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whāoa) started his reo Māori journey as a teenager and, after studying at university, progressed into teaching roles.

As a lecturer in te reo Māori at Auckland University of Technology, his academic research and writing focused primarily on the revitalisation of the Māori language and translation studies.

Kelly is a licensed translator and graduate of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo, the Institute of Excellence in Māori language. He also has a masters degree with first-class honours in te reo Māori, and has a load of accomplishments to his name including developing an app called Kōrerorero.

All of his mahi towards the revitalisation of te reo Māori was honoured at this year’s Matariki Awards, as he received the Waipunarangi Award for Te Reo & Tikanga.

Kelly says he was humbled to receive the honour last week.

“I didn’t grow up speaking te reo Māori. Mum had a little bit of knowledge but enough to give us the language when we were kids. So I know what it’s like to go out and be hungry for it, go through those years and years of courses learning it.”


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Passing on te reo Māori

Kelly taking a teaching role for te reo Māori was his way of giving back to people who were in the same shoes as he was; starting their reo Māori journeys later in life.

“I get a real thrill out of helping others who were once in that position that I was in, who want to learn our language.”

Kelly says such people reach a plateau during their reo journey. His advice is: “It’s [about] surrounding yourself with others who are on the journey or learning [another] language. To develop that skill you need to practise around other people who are keen to practise with you.”

Kelly also has his own podcast show called Everyday Māori, which he says was access for people to have more resources and make te reo Māori more accessible.

“We thought there was room there for a solely reo-focused Māori podcast. We went to Te Mātāwai, which is funding it, and I grabbed one of my young students, Āpera Woodfine, I said ‘let’s sit down and do this podcast. I’ll be the teacher, you the student and we’ll just have a korero.”

The podcast has international audiences too, not only in Australia but also the United Kingdom and the United States.