Te Reo Māori immersion courses are helping Māori reclaim their identity

April 5, 2024

Te Reo Māori immersion courses are helping Māori reclaim their identity

Te Reo Māori immersion courses have been growing in popularity over the last few years. Photo: Harry Dowling

Te Reo Māori full immersion courses are providing a vital space for New Zealanders to connect with their cultural identity.

Harry Dowling (Ngāpuhi) and his wife are currently studying the level 5 full immersion Te Reo Māori course at Te Wānanga Takiura.

Harry says they had wanted to do the full immersion course for a while so that they would be able to connect more with his iwi’s marae, Te Iringa, in Northland.

“We thought that learning the language and investing in that side of our culture was necessary to be able to engage more with our people and to know their needs and how we can help and serve in those places.”

The course is also helping Harry to connect more with the Māori side of his family, which he says has always had some degree of separation.

“Not many people have lived where my iwi is and where my marae is, so there’s kind of been, throughout the generations, less and less connection to those places.”

Benjamin Haurua (Te Rarawa, Te Tai Tokerau) is also doing the level five full Te Reo Māori immersion course at Te Wānanga Ihorangi and is doing the level six next year, and says that the course has also helped him more than just improving his Te Reo.

“It’s helped me emotionally – being able to find identity I think helps establish emotional balance.”

For Benjamin, the course provides a friendly learning environment, where every student is valued.

“I think spaces like this where you all come together to learn, as babies, how to speak a language – the lawyer and the janitor have to be in the same room at the same time, there’s no hierarchy system.”

Te Reo Māori immersion courses have grown in demand nationwide in recent years, with many wānanga having long waiting lists full of those eager to get into the courses, which sell out quickly.

According to Harry, the waiting list for the Rumaki Reo course at Te Wānanga Takiura is almost two years long.

“There has been a huge increase in the number of people applying for and attending full immersion Te Reo Māori courses over the last five years.”

Similarly, Benjamin Haurua says that Te Wānanga Ihorangi is doubling their intake for next year due to the demand.

The courses operate in the same way as other full-time study and immerse students in the reo, as well as tikanga, waiata, kapa haka, and Māori games.

Benjamin believes that full Te Reo Māori immersion is an opportunity for all New Zealanders, not just Māori, to be a part of the nation’s larger journey of reconciliation between its peoples.

“If we love this language then we have to learn it. If we are tangata tiriti and we are not of the language or blood-related, then we need to choose to learn it.”

Listen here for an extended interview clip with Harry Dowling about his experience with Te Reo Māori immersion.

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