Isolation not a barrier to Reo revitalisation for Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri

By James Perry

Local iwi Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri has not had a marae on the island for over 100 years – although that will change in coming years. But what  Chief Executive Officer Gail Amaru says the iwi does have is tikanga, kawa “in bucketloads”.

“Manaakitanga, kotahitanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga – all those tanga’s we have in bucketloads. Now we just have to wrap that with the korowai of Reo,” she says.

Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri is in the infancy of it’s Reo revitalisation strategy, and has this weekend attended the Te Tai Tonga Reo Summit in Nelson where they’ve been able to share their experience with the other 11 southern iwi.

Amaru sees the geographic isolation of the island group as an opportunity rather than a hinderance to the revitalisation of Ngāti Mutunga reo on Wharekauri. She says living on an island in the middle of an ocean brings some beautiful, if not unique mātauranga.

“Our mara kai, or Pā Tangaroa – we see those elements of our connection to our whenua as being the foundation of taking our reo as whānau, hapū and iwi.

“Ruakere Hond talks about speaker domains, or speaker communities. We see that as an opportunity of having our little speaker communities,  as long as we’ve got a couple, momentum will continue, with growth  that is going to help reaffirm and re-establish our Reo Māori at our own pace, rather than if we had all those other external distractions,” Amaru said.  We want to be the author of our own desitny and the voice of our future. 

Rangatahi the Reo leaders of the future

Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri are working on a succession plan to enhance future generations of Reo speakers within the iwi, and in particular on Wharekauri. There are three schools and one Kōhanga Reo in the archipelago group, but no secondary school. A key area of focus for the iwi is the transition between Kōhanga Reo and primary school, before the rangatahi head off to the mainland for high school.

“We lose a lot of that mātauranga in year 9 when our rangatahi go off to the mainland, leaving us with a huge gap.

“It’s interesting this summit is focussing on rangatahi. We lose our tamariki at the ages of 10, 11, 12 and how do we maintain that connection?  We want to let our rangatahi go to futher their educational journey, live life, be exposed to new experiences, but how do we connect to them and ensure that they are connected back whereever their life journey takes them?”

The iwi spent a lot of time during lockdown in 2020 doing analysis around what challenges their rangatahi face when they leave home for the mainland, and the continuity of Reo.

“They’ll always have their tūrangawaewae, it will always be there. Unfortunately flights to the Chathams can be deemed – well the whānau say it’s cheaper to go to Aussie, when that bubble is opened.   Real challenges we have to navigate.”

The Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Reo strategy was designed between 2014 and 2015, and Amaru says the iwi is honoured to call on two “language champions” for assistance in Dr. Ruakere Hond and Mitchell Ritai.

Looking at challenges as opportunities.

One of the most critical challenges is funding.

“Funders make these policies. And nothing that is dreamed up on Lambton Quay can be overlayed onto Wharekauri. We just don’t have the same access to various opportunities.

“We choose to Wharekauri-ise, or Ngāti Mutungatanga any delivery. But that’s not always understood by funders, or funds that are designed and pushed out by government on Lambton Quay.  We have to do a lot of negotiation, and activate a lot of levers.”

Amaru praises Te Pae Motuhake o Te Tai Tonga, the board that represents the interests of Te Taonga for Te Mātāwai for it’s audacious approach to investment that suits the people of Wharekauri to overcome those challenges.

Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri are expecting to open their new Pa Marae in 2025.