A woman who was punished for speaking her native tongue at school has received a Queen's Service Medal for her contribution to the Kōhanga Reo Movement and revitalisation of Te Reo. 85-year-old Herita Toko was recognised for her efforts at Government House in Auckland.
A songbird of Kōhanga Reo. Today Herita Toko was honoured for her tireless commitment to Te Reo Māori and education. She was humble in receiving the award and says, “In my heart, it's not for me but it's for the Kōhanga Reo of Waiariki, of Mātaatua, Tauranga Moana and our grandchildren in our Kōhanga Reo.”
She maintains that Kōhanga Reo not only focuses on the education of the child but also welcomes parents with no knowledge of Te Reo Māori to join their children in learning Te Reo Māori. She says, “Some need to be nurtured because they're new when new parents come in who aren't versed in Māori language, you cater to them too, not just the children but the parents as well. My wish is for parents; bring your children to Kōhanga Reo. If you don't speak Māori, learn it with your children. It's beautiful, it's simple.”
Te Kapua Riini is proud of his sister. However, he warns that despite achievements to date, there is still much work to be done. He says, “Although Māori language increased, what we're hearing is that it is declining again, perhaps Kōhanga Reo can foster growth once again.”
Herita Toko adds, “To continue to support the cause of Kōhanga Reo, I don't want it to diminish.
According to her, Māori language and Tikanga are the fundamental components of Māori identity. She says, “So that our language isn't lost, as well as our values and protocols. If those are lost, you have no value, where are you from?”
At 85 years old, Herita Toko is still a champion for the cause. She looks forward to the graduation of the next round of her Kōhanga Reo teachers.