Kā manukura o te reo
Planting the seed of te reo Māori

A move back to South Canterbury for Kari Moana Kururangi (née Austin) and her young family has had a positive ripple effect on the local whānau. Kaituhituhi Brent Melville reports.

Photograph Shar Devine

A baby. Sometimes that is all it takes to move back to where you came from. For Kari Moana Kururangi, that meant moving from Christchurch to Timaru. It’s a move that took her from a thriving te reo Māori cluster to the challenge of setting up a new reo network.

A year ago, Kari Moana and husband Komene Kururangi took their young daughter Waimārima south because they wanted to raise her in an environment where she would be surrounded by her whānau, particularly her grandparents and great-grandparents.

For Kari Moana (Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha – Kāti Huirapa, Kāti Makō, Kāti Irakehu), now in her late 20s, being back in South Canterbury evokes memories of her upbringing in Temuka, and in particular, attending the kōhanga reo language nest in Timaru as a pre-schooler. It was here that she learned to love te reo Māori.

She studied te reo via The Correspondence School while at Roncalli College in Timaru. At the University of Canterbury, she worked towards a degree in arts and law with majors in te reo Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi. She completed the degree at the University of Waikato.

In 2008, Kari Moana was selected for a fellowship with the First Nations’ Futures Program (FNFP), focused on emerging leaders. Initiated in 2006 by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Kamehameha Schools (Hawai’i) and Stanford University, the FNFP aims to support sustainable resource management and leadership development within the indigenous partner communities. The 12-month programme included two weeks at the First Nations’ Futures Institute at Stanford in California and the University of Hawai’i Mānoa Center for Hawaiian Studies.

It was truly an eye-opener. “The fellowship was inspirational, not least of which because it showed me the true power of exposure to different cultures, and striving towards a common outcome.”


Kari Moana Kururangi and daughter Waimārima

It’s a learning that she took to her role as capability development advisor for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, a role that she held for four years prior to the birth of her daughter. “For me it reinforced that there was real strength in diversity, as it successfully brought together people from different backgrounds and experiences to work on a range of targeted projects.”

Back in Timaru, Aoraki Polytechnic has been quick to tap into her expertise, appointing her as Māori Development Advisor. She recently completed a five-year Māori Development Strategy for the polytechnic. The strategy is underpinned by the development and implementation of Māori language policy across the polytechnic’s five South Island campuses.

“In my opinion, the Māori language isn’t just for Māori. There is something incredibly unique about the language that ties us to this place. Therefore, every single person who lives in this country should have the opportunity to share in this incredible gift,” Kari Moana says.

“ I don’t agree with inflicting language on people, but I do believe that accessibility to and a link to our heritage is vital. Wherever there is desire there should be opportunity to learn. Where it is not accessible enough in an educational, social or corporate environment, I believe that we, as Māori, have a duty to remedy that. We have a duty to improve and uphold the language. Because if we don’t, then who will?”

And what of the challenges of living in a small community? “There are pros and cons,” she laughs. “In Christchurch we had the support of a strong Māori-speaking community and a large and well-established social network. Here in Timaru we are a bit more isolated and are having to create our own social networks. For instance, there are no Māori medium early childhood education providers in Timaru, so we do miss the accessibility that we had in Christchurch.

“As a small hub, however, there is much more immediate support and in many ways it’s easier to get things done.”
Kari Moana says there’s been great support, for instance, for her plans to create a te reo Māori immersion centre, a kōhanga reo, on the site of a now-closed kōhanga reo at Te Aitarakihi Marae in Timaru.

While Kari Moana and Komene have been driving the initiative, they are fortunate to have the support of a small but dedicated team of motivated parents and grandparents, as well as the Arowhenua Rūnanga in Temuka.

In driving the establishment of a new kōhanga reo, Kari is following in her family’s footsteps. Her mother, Sharyn Nolan (Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha) and tāua, Mihirau Nolan from Arowhenua, were both instrumental in setting up the first local kōhanga reo when Kari was born, assisting three generations of her whānau to learn basic Māori together through singing songs and playing games, until – like many of the kōhanga reo of the day – interest waned and it closed its doors. “Part of the problem, like it is today, was in finding good teachers committed to te reo,” Kari Moana says.

The kōhanga has served as an inspiration to improve Kari Moana’s own teaching skills. She is currently in her second year of a three-year degree in immersion primary teaching at Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

“We didn’t speak Māori at home when my older brothers were born, so it wasn’t until I attended Timaru te kōhanga reo that I was exposed to te reo and became hungry to learn the language. However, my journey to learning te reo has not been an easy one.

“Now that I am a parent myself, I want things to be different for my daughter. Komene and I are committed to ensuring that Waimārima grows up speaking fluent Māori as her first language. That is our greatest priority as parents, and we will do whatever we need to do to ensure that this happens. ”

Kari Moana says the process of immersing Waimārima, who is about to turn two, in te reo has had a positive effect on the rest of the family.

“It’s had a wonderful ripple effect, as having Waimārima back home is making my family now want to improve their skills and knowledge of te reo so that they can keep up with her. My mum has her once a week and before she was born, te reo wouldn’t have been spoken much in her home. But now that she has her mokopuna as motivation it has reignited her own passion for the language and restarted her on her own learning journey.”

Komene was taught te reo at home in Tauranga by his grandparents who raised him from birth. After moving to Christchurch to attend Aranui High School, he obtained a BA (Hons) in te reo Māori at the University of Canterbury, where he worked as a lecturer for seven years. He recently took on the mantle of Kaiako Matua for Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, which involves managing all of the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa tutors south of Christchurch.

From their base in Timaru, Kari Moana and Komene also work together on Kāwai Raupapa, a Māori Performing Arts paper. “Komene and I co-taught this paper last year, with a focus on up-skilling primary school teachers in how to tutor kapa haka. We will be running this paper again this year, but this time with a focus on early childhood teachers and parents of young children,” she says.

Kari Moana says one of the biggest challenges of te reo for her is the vocabulary. “The parameters of language are constantly changing. Internet, social media, IT speak – it is a whole new world. And then when you have children there is another whole new set of vocabulary altogether. Simple concepts like mermaids, seesaws and unicorns have me running for my dictionary constantly!”

She says she is a huge supporter of the need to create new vocabulary to keep up with the modern world. “The Māori Language Commission has a big challenge. But we need to remain conscious that the ultimate purpose of a language is to communicate.

”As a speaker of te reo we can strive to the ultimate level of fluency, but unless those who are listening can understand what we are trying to say then the message will be lost. Therefore, the best skill that you can have is the ability to adapt your language to your audience. The Māori language is an incredible gift, and I feel truly blessed to be able to share that gift with my whānau, my hapū and my iwi.”