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“A good idea goes nowhere if the system actually blocks it:

The litmus test for any country is the wellbeing of its families”

Na Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, September 28, 2013

This chapter explores relevant policy documents impacting on Maori education in general (early years’ bilingual/immersion education specifically), commencing with the colonial backdrop of Treaty signing and the treachery involved in turning it into an instrument of invasion and land alienation through the colonial courts. It overviewed the impact colonization and Treaty jurisprudence on Maori education generally and the Kohanga Reo movement specifically. The succession of settler government legislative acts in a sequence of events largely determining land tenure, and socio-political structures (councils, hospitals, prisons, churches, asylums, and schools), meant the imposition of a foreign system as far as Maori were concerned. Political developments and public policies ushered in systematically undermined the Treaty as enforced assimilation was on the educational agenda for Maori. Maori rights went unprotected. Maori socio-cultural disruption is the result. Maori language shift occurred at the same rate as land loss. Maori resistance has been fine-tuned. Maori resurgence is inevitable.

Kohanga Reo was established to stay the impact of language loss and socio-cultural dislocation experienced in Maori communities. The 1985-1986 legal decision concerning the recognition and role of te reo Maori (the Maori language) as a language of the state concluded that the Maori language could be regarded as a “taonga” (treasured possession) and therefore had a guaranteed right to protection under the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi (Waitangi Tribunal, 1986). This led to the Maori Language Act, 1987. But in spite of those legal and political developments our language and culture are still threatened. We Maori always have to adapt ourselves (our values, ways of being, and language) into a whitestream system that simply does not work. Whilst it may be true that no language can reside only within the early years or school system, it is widely acknowledged that the state education system, including Playcentre and Kindergarten, played a major role in bringing the Maori language to near death through the shift from Maori to English. All early childhood centers could therefore play a pivotal role in helping to reverse that language shift, but it is only the bilingual immersion centers that currently have success.

Whilst the principle of partnership of coming out of the Lands Case underpins the current Maori education and language strategies (see Ministry of Education, 2013a, 2013b), it has been identified that the partnership is problematic when it is controlled by the Crown. We have inherited a legacy of problematic partnership once the 1835 Declaration and Treaty were breached—practically on signing. That is why this section is concluded with the very insightful quote from the Kaihautu (leader at the helm) of the Kohanga Reo movement and worthwhile repeating here: “A good idea goes nowhere if the system actually blocks it: The litmus test for any country is the wellbeing of its families” (Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, personal communication).

Aotearoa has been cloaked in the fabric of the coloniser, in spite of the warning that was given by Aperahama Taonui in 1840 at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, referred to at the outset of this chapter. Taonui put out a resounding warning not to lay a shroud on the Treaty of Waitangi, but to cloak the Treaty with our unique, kiwi-feathered, cloak from this place, Aotearoa. The warning was prophetic and solemn in its sense of foreboding. Kohanga Reo has been shrouded, systematically divested of its unique and prized feathers. Still only partially state-funded it has been usurped as part of the Crown-regulated mainstream ECE sector (Waitangi Tribunal, 2010, 2012).

Our language is our life force; it nourishes our souls and feeds our minds. If we think of language as a taonga and a valued resource, then the growth of bilingual children will greatly enhance the nation’s mana and wealth in a system in which both the official spoken and written languages are equally sanctioned, equally valued, equally loved, equally honored; as was envisioned in the Treaty of Waitangi and reflected in law. If we do not, then we pass up the most vitally significant way of unraveling and understanding the dominant discourses of mythmaking. We have no other way of inversion—or turning things around. Our language is our last defense. It houses our stories, our worldviews, our knowledge/s; it is our cultural archive, our national treasure, and provides us with a place to stand—our turangawaewae.

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