'Gollum effect' in NZ's relationship with Te Reo

10:27 am on 8 July 2016

[bh] 'Our precious': Does NZ's relationship with Te Reo need fixing?

A te reo Māori advocate believes New Zealand is treating the Māori language in a love-hate manner, comparing it to Lord of the Rings' Gollum and his precious ring.

Victoria University's new deputy vice chancellor for Maori studies, Rawinia Higgins, who worked on the review of the government's new Māori language bill, said the country needed to change the discourse about Māori language revitalisation.

Māori had argued for te reo Māori to be recognised as taonga through Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi and she believed a hard conversation was needed about what that meant to New Zealanders as people and a nation.

"We've become similar to Gollum, so it's the Gollum effect where we have this love-hate relationship with our language; where it's become 'my precious'," Ms Higgins said.

Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey, The (2012) Le Hobbit : un voyage inattendu Pers: Andy Serkis Dir: Peter Jackson Ref: HOB004BW Photo Credit: [New Line Cinema / The Kobal Collection] 
Kobal / The Picture Desk

Te Reo is being treated like Gollum treats the One Ring, according to an academic. Photo: AFP / FILE

She said New Zealand was on the cusp of some exciting developments for the language but the key to its survival was for everyone to use it.

"Whilst we culturally, spiritually and, as part of our identity, love the language, it doesn't really translate into using the language and therefore encouraging language intergenerational transmission," Ms Higgins said.

Currently, there are 48,000 fluent speakers of te reo Māori in New Zealand, however the number is declining steadily.

Ms Higgins said the introduction of the new Māori language legislation was an opportunity to rethink efforts on revitalisation.

Scotty Morrison and Dr Cathy Dewes have both been appointed to Te Mātāwai - the new legislative body set to lead the revitalisation of te reo Māori on behalf of iwi and Māori.

Mr Morrison is the representative for iwi radio, and Ngā Aho Whakaari and Ms Dewes represent iwi Te Arawa.

They will join urban representative Willie Jackson, Te Tai Rāwhiti representative Jeremy Tātere MacLeod, and Bentham Ohia from Mātaatua.

Eight more representatives are still to be selected.

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