10 Jun 2016

Maori an inspiration to Ainu people

9:19 am on 10 June 2016

A delegation of indigenous Ainu people from Japan is in Taranaki this week to share experiences and learn from local Maori about language revitalisation.

Members of the Ainu delegation perform during the powhiri to welcome them in Taranaki.

Members of the Ainu delegation perform during the powhiri to welcome them in Taranaki. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The group from Hokkaido, the northern most of Japan's main islands, was welcomed at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth last night and will attend Poukorero, a two-day language revitalisation conference at Parihaka.

Delegation spokesperson Kenji Sekiner said the Ainu began to lose their language as a result of the mass migration of Japanese in the late 19th century.

"Many, many Japanese coming to Hokkaido and after that suddenly Ainu were a minority people and kind of we were forced to speak Japanese. We were a so small group of people and discrimination against Ainu was so harsh."

Ainu delegation spokesperson Kenji Sekiner.

Ainu delegation spokesperson Kenji Sekiner. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Sekiner said the Ainu language was no longer in common use.

"You know basically we don't converse in Ainu so it's very, very hard. It's a long way to revitalise (the language) for us to speak in daily life our language. "

Mr Sekiner has been coming to New Zealand since 2013 and said by comparison the invigoration of Te Reo Māori was very advanced.

He said it was an inspiration to hear Māori being used and he hoped the visit would make a huge impact on the young people he had brought with him to New Zealand.

Ruakere Hond speaks at the powhiri to welcome the Ainu visitors.

Ruakere Hond speaks at the powhiri to welcome the Ainu visitors. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Dr Ruakere Hond from Te Reo O Taranaki has been liaising with the Ainu people for several years.

He said the Ainu language was where Māori was 30 years ago.

"They are looking to restore language via the universities and institutions and to bring it back into the communities and they are using Ataarangi, a methodology that was begun here in New Zealand.

"They are utilising that methodology - immersion learning - using cuisenaire rods to restore their language, the language of Ainu, back into their communities."

He said tutors from Te Reo O Taranaki has visited Japan twice in the past and the conference was expression of where the Ainu people were now.

"It helps to remind us of where we were 30 years ago and I suppose for them they are hoping that the relationship continues beyond this and the learnings we have and what we have been able to achieve for Reo Māori will also support them."

Dr Hond said the revitalisation of Māori was now entering a new phase.

"The future of Māori language is for the language to be spoken in the home and in communities. By a language being spoken in the home it ensures that communities are empowered to be the future of Reo Māori rather than relying solely on institutions of the Crown we are empowered to lead."

This approach would encourage the survival of regional dialects and variations, Dr Hond said.

Taranaki te reo pioneer  Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru.

Taranaki te reo pioneer Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Yesterday's powhiri also recognised the career of Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru who was presented with a lifetime achievement award in the form of a finely carved heitiki.

Dr Waikerepuru helped establish Te Reo O Taranaki 30 years ago and has been a key figure in Māori language education in Taranaki.

He also helped lead the Treaty of Waitangi claim for Te Reo to be recognised as a taonga and was a driving force behind the establishment of the Māori radio network and Maori TV.

It's not lost on Dr Waikerepuru that Māori language restoration techniques were being sought out internationally.

"They can see this is what they need and hopefully their views will be that this will provide support for them and so it will be the development of languages throughout the world and to help weak languages through the difficult times."

Dr Waikerepuru was confident the future of the Maori language was now in good hands.

"I like to believe it will go on for the next 100 years and people won't realise that it started from scratch at one stage."

The Poukorero conference continues at Parihaka today and tomorrow featuring a range of speakers and workshops.