Te reo Māori is my superpower

Starrett-Leigh Tamihana-Iorangi, who's enjoying a Bachelor of Education in Huarahi Māori, shares her te reo journey from kōrero with her tūpuna to studying as a mature student.

Starrett-Leigh and her whānau
Starrett-Leigh and her whānau

Ka tangi a Tukaiāia kei te moana,
Ko Ngatiwai kei te moana e haere ana
Ka tangi a Tukaiāia kei tuawhenua,
Ko Ngatiwai kei tuawhenua e haere ana.
Ko Rangaiti te maunga
Ko Tutaimatae te awa
Ko Tokomaru te waka
Ko Ngāti Wai te marae
Ko Te Uri o Hikihiki te hapu
Ko Ngāti Wai te iwi
Ko Starrett-Leigh Tamihana-Iorangi tōku ingoa
I tipu mai au i te piritaha o te awa ō Mokau, tatū ki te maunga ō Huruiki, ā ka titiro atu au ki te moana i Mokau.

Growing up on the North Shore of Auckland, a predominantly non-Māori area, my grandparents made extensive efforts to ensure I stayed connected to my taha Māori.

It wasn’t something they passed onto my parents, out of safety for their wellbeing. My grandparents were part of the generation who were strapped for speaking te reo.

Society at the time believed that te reo Māori had no worth in a colonised world, which effectively influenced my struggle in my identity as a child.

However, being able to kōrero with my grandparents was a taonga. I was one of their only mokopuna that could kōrero to them in their mother tongue.

It made me feel special, as though my reo was my superpower.

From the age of two, I attended wānanga and tangihanga with my grandparents, and would do the waiata tautoko after my grandfather spoke. I’d perform kapa haka everywhere and anywhere we went.

I had learned te reo Māori throughout my life, by talking to my grandparents, going to kōhanga reo, spending a year at kura kaupapa, and taking te reo Māori as a subject throughout my mainstream schooling.

I always felt different growing up though. I was never Māori enough because I wasn’t matatau reo, and never Pākehā enough because of my whakapapa.

When I gradually started to lose my grandparents one by one, my reo began to fade. It was harder to retain without them because my parents and my siblings couldn’t kōrero Māori. Heoi, he kakano ahau, little did I realise the effect of the seed that was planted in me.

I am now a mature student with four children, going through Māori medium education and pursuing a degree through Huarahi Māori. It has taken me back to my childhood and the teachings I gained from my mātua tūpuna, and my children are the reason I am committed.

I didn’t finish high school, but I couldn’t let that stop me. I fought with inner dialogue about why I shouldn't do this, but I know there are others who have been in my place. We must keep this superpower alive.

After Huarahi Māori, I intend to encourage our Māori ākonga who struggle with their identity and education by supporting them with their te reo Māori, tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori knowledge.

I will use my degree as a way to build relationships with whānau, hapū and iwi, knowing that it takes a village to raise a child and that teachers cannot take on such a heavy task on their own, but rather as a collective effort.

I think of my mother, a retired teacher of 36 years, a strong advocate for teaching and learning, and a resilient fighter of Parkinson’s disease. She will take any and every opportunity to teach our children, so much so, that watching television could turn into a math lesson.

My children are my biggest motivation and a constant reminder of why I do what I do. They celebrate every win and achievement and wipe away every tear when things get rough. I'm a better me because of them, they are my biggest teachers.

If I could share some advice to other Māori on their reo journey it would be: Ko te ahurei o te tamaiti arahia ō tātou mahi – Let the uniqueness of the child guide our work.

We have lost a part of our identity as tāngata whenua, and that loss has caused a major disconnection. We must reclaim our reo, and teach our ākonga in a way that is culturally responsive to their needs and not how society believes we should learn.

If we don’t, who will?

Our tamāriki and mokopuna need to see that we are advocating for a better future in education for them, so they too can aspire to initiate and create change in their lives and for future generations to come.

Huarahi Māori is about incremental change, slowly but surely, contributing to the revitalisation of te reo Māori across Aotearoa. The bilingual way of learning allows Māori to really thrive in waiata, karakia and kōrero.

By Starrett-Leigh Tamihana-Iorangi

Huarahi Māori is a three-year Bachelor of Education (teaching) degree for people who are proficient in te reo. It fosters understanding of education, familiarises students with the Māori-medium curriculum, enhances students’ knowledge and skills in the areas of te reo matatini (literacy), pāngarau (numeracy), tikanga Māori, mātauranga Māori, Māori pedagogy and second language acquisition and pedagogy.

Huarahi Māori enables individuals to develop a richer relationship with their cultural identity and is a pathway that contributes to the revitalisation of te reo Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. Huarahi Māori is available to study at our Tai Tokerau and Epsom Campuses.

Media contact

Te Rina Triponel | Kaitohutohu Pāpāho
E: te.rina.triponel@auckland.ac.nz