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More Than Words

In an outdoor setting, Ngauranga Kura Ranginiwa, an older Maori woman, stands holding hands with her grandson, Stevie-Rei Pokaia. The woman wears a black jacket, a leopard-print skirt, and a traditional Maori necklace with a white feather in her hair. The man is dressed in a black shirt, black pants, a traditional Maori cloak, and a black hat, also wearing a traditional Maori necklace.

Caption: Ngauranga Kura Ranginiwa (at left) raised three mokopuna, or grandchildren, including Stevie-Rei Pokaia (at right). As a kaiako, or teacher, at a Kohanga reo-a school of Mãori language and culture-Ranginiwa helped teach her mokopuna. Following the path of her kui, or grandmother, Pokaia now works as a kaiako. Ranginiwa and Pokaia are shown on Ngãti Te Whiti land at Kawaroa, Ngãmotu, Taranaki.

The Māori model for teaching language, particularly through Kohanga Reo schools, exemplifies how communities worldwide can reclaim and fortify their cultural identities. Ngauranga Kura Ranginiwa, a Kohanga Reo teacher, perpetuates this cultural legacy by imparting knowledge to her grandchildren, emphasizing the importance of language immersion in fostering intergenerational learning and community engagement. Beyond mere communication, preserving language in this manner nurtures cultural pride and strengthens community ties.

Tatum McComber, inspired by Māori advocate Sir Tīmoti Kāretu, confronted the challenge of revitalizing their endangered Mohawk language through an immersive school initiative. Their journey underscores the urgency of language preservation as a conduit for preserving cultural heritage and transmitting ancestral wisdom across generations. This proactive approach not only revives language but also reinforces community bonds and empowers individuals to fully embrace their cultural roots.

The resurgence of the Māori language began in the early 1970s with activists like Ngā Tamatoa, who opposed policies aimed at suppressing te reo Māori. Their advocacy led to the establishment of Kohanga Reo schools, where speaking te reo Māori and embracing cultural immersion became central. This initiative not only safeguarded the language but also promoted social cohesion, empowering Māori communities to reclaim their cultural practices and values.

The success of Kohanga Reo has inspired Indigenous communities globally, such as Native Hawaiians, who have adapted similar models like the Aha Pūnana Leo language nests. These efforts underscore the vital role of language in preserving traditional knowledge, celebrating cultural diversity, and enhancing community resilience. By safeguarding their languages, communities uphold their distinct identities, transmit invaluable knowledge across generations, and promote social cohesion and empowerment. This narrative vividly illustrates how proactive language preservation efforts are essential for fostering community strength and resilience, making the full article essential reading for those interested in cultural heritage preservation and the empowerment of Indigenous communities.

Read the full article: More Than Words

By Aroha Awarau

for the National Geographis


Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!

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