Dr Ēnoka Murphy (Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Ruapani, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāti Kahungunu) is a TEU member and Pūkenga in the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato. Here Dr Murphy discusses the intergenerational trauma experienced by those denied the use of te reo Māori.

Following a recent conversation with the NZ Herald on the intergenerational trauma experienced by Māori as a result of historical attempts by the government and our school system to suppress the use of te reo Māori, I was given pause once again to reflect on how this trauma has been felt in my own whānau.

I’m from Murupara, Waikaremoana. Both my parents were teachers, and have run a programme called Te Pumaomao for the last 30 years. My sister and I grew up in the Tino Rangatiratanga Movement. I’ve had my eyes wide open for many years. My parents encouraged me into teaching at 16 years old, and after passing School Certificate, I was teaching the following year. I haven’t stopped teaching for over 30 years now.

I’ve taught in most institutions from Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa Māori, Wharekura, Polytech, and at University. I know nothing else but my te ao Māori.

On my way to work last week, I started to think about my koro, and how different my experience with te reo Māori and te ao Māori has been from his. My koro left Murupara as a child to live with his mother in Tāmaki Makaurau. Those like my koro, who left their home towns and communities and went into the urban context, who didn’t grow up with their own laws, history and language, their own identity, had very different experiences than those who stayed.

I recall many years later, in the early 2000s my koro was invited to speak on Waka Huia – a TVNZ te reo Māori show – he was in his early eighties. I remember watching him, together with my whānau, and seeing how difficult it was for him to keep up his te reo Māori for the 30 minute show. I remember the reporter constantly reminding him when he broke into te reo Pākehā. I remember seeing the pain in him, a pain we shared in watching him struggle, and the whakamā. But I also remember the courage he showed in agreeing to be interviewed for Waka Huia, and the pride we felt to see that courage.

As my memories of my koro came back to me, it brought back the reality of the intergenerational trauma felt by so many who have been disconnected from their reo and tikanga. I remember hearing about my koro coming home to our small community, and how disconnected he felt from the other kaumātua of his age whom stayed. Not only did he suffer the trauma, we all did as whānau who loved him and could see his pain. Just thinking about it made me emotional.

And it’s not only te reo Māori. If you dont have the reo, then the door to te ao Māori is simply ajar. Through te reo Māori, the door to te ao Māori is wide open. You understand your philosophies, your belief system, laws, history, waiata, haka, everything that is held in te reo Māori. The trauma of losing this isn’t something from the past, from the childhood of our kaumātua. The trauma is real and life-long. It doesn’t just sit with our kaumātua, it sits with us and our own whakamā, and our pōuri. It’s become so that it is a privilege in our society to be able to free yourself up some time to come to an institution to learn your own language, your own te reo Māori.

But their are many courageous ones who are doing something about it, who are addressing the pain and loss they feel, and are working hard to open the door to te ao Māori by committing themselves to learning te reo Māori. People young and old, but particularly the many kaumātua I have had the privilege of teaching over the last 30 years, and those in Te Tohu Paetahi, our total immersion te reo Māori programme at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato.

Keep a look out for the next Tertiary Update where Dr Murphy tells us more about the ‘courageous ones’ and 30 years of Te Tohu Paetahi.