13 Apr 2017

Call to Niueans to fight to preserve language

7:38 pm on 13 April 2017

Niuean leaders are calling for locals and Niueans living abroad to fight for the preservation of Niuean language.

The Vagahau Niue Conference began this morning in Mutalau and brought together speakers from corporate, government and NGO sectors from across the South Pacific.

Delegates at Vagahau Niue Conference April 2017.

Delegates at Vagahau Niue Conference April 2017. Photo: RNZI / Indira Stewart

The two-day conference will focus on sustaining vagahau Niue to help Niueans use the language to strengthen their culture and maintain ties with Niue nationals living abroad.

The chairperson of the Niue Language Commission, Tifaole Ioane, said that while colonisation had its benefits, it also led to the suppression of vagahau Niue.

Ms Ioane said elders were trying to turn that around.

"The problems that colonisers had left behind you know, they've taught us well to look down on our culture, to look down on our language," she said.

"You know, at this late stage we're trying to grip onto it and try to think otherwise. You know, now we're learning that there is a lot of value in our own culture."

Vagahau Niue Conference April 2017

Vagahau Niue Conference April 2017 Photo: RNZI / Indira Stewart

The conference comes as Niue's home community expresses hope that the tide is turning on the flow of people leaving Niue for opportunities offshore.

Niue is counting on the returnees to build new homes and businesses on the island to help strengthen its vulnerable economy.

Education, jobs and better living standards abroad led to a rapid decline in Niue's population since its peak of 5000 in 1966.

At the last count in 2011 the island's population stood at just over 1600.

24,000 live in New Zealand as they have access to a home and a job in the country through their New Zealand citizenship.

The government has pushed policies over the last few years to develop the economy, particularly tourism.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs