Inaugural Māori Language Week Parade hits streets of Wellington
Te Reo Māori fever has hit the streets of Wellington today with thousands turning up in celebration of the inaugural Māori Language Week Parade.The parade began on the street in front of Parliament and ends at Te Papa and included floats, songs, costumes and dance.
Ngahiwi Apanui, chief executive of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) says it's about bringing all New Zealanders together to celebrate.
"It's not a protest; it's a celebration of Te Reo Māori," he says.
More than 4000 people have already registered to take part in the parade, including hundreds of kura, schools, early childhood centres and kōhanga reo.
"It is very much about drawing attention to the language with something positive rather than something negative, so we're going out there with all these wonderful children and young people who really support the language."
The theme this year is Ākina te Reo, which encourages all of New Zealand to "give it a go".
"Regardless of your ethnic background we feel that every New Zealander has a responsibility to revitalise the language and we want to make everybody feel comfortable in that space."
Mr Apanui says he understands one of the reservations in trying Te Reo Māori is fear.
"The fear of getting it wrong, the fear of being judged - well in order to learn something you've got to make mistakes. It doesn't matter if you're playing rugby or if you're learning a language, you will make mistakes and you have to be in a safe place to make mistakes," he said.
Around 3.7 percent of New Zealanders can speak Māori, down from 4 percent in 2006.
However, Kiwis under 30 years old are more likely to speak Māori than older people.
Ngahiwi Apanui says younger generations, including young parents, are key to language revitalisation.
"Data sources such as Growing Up in New Zealand show us that having children is a catalyst for learning Te Reo Māori, so we really want to focus on that younger generation," he said.
According to Te Taura Whiri the attitudes towards the Māori language have changed through generations.
"Young Pākehā are not frightened of Te Reo Māori; they see it as part of their world. Whereas my generation probably weren't as scared of the language or frightened with interaction with other Māori as their parents were, and so as the generations have passed I think we've become a more cosmopolitan nation."
There are currently around 1185 schools with Māori language education in New Zealand, but there are just as many schools without.
"Really what we want to do is focus on our young people, who are still growing and forming their opinions."
Celebrations have been planned throughout the week, marking 41 years of Māori Language Week on the country's calendar.