McDonald's worker's Māori exchange inspires Te Reo resurgence

A native Māori speaker has his parents to thank after his fluency in Te Reo inspired customers of the McDonald's chain he works at to order in Aotearoa's indigenous language.

Jershon Tatana, 17, works at a McDonald's franchise in Hastings, and surprised a group of fluent Māori speakers when he replied to their order in Te Reo - a moment that was captured on camera.

The exchange was filmed and posted online by te reo Māori advocate Jeremy Tātere MacLeod, and it has now started encouraging other Te Reo speakers to start placing orders in their native tongue.

Mr MacLeod was part of a language revitalisation hui at the restaurant two weeks ago, designed to inspire second language learners, hosted by Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc.

He says the meeting was "well-attended", and credits both that event and a push for September to be 'Speak Māori Only Month' as the reasons behind the revival of Te Reo at McDonald's Hastings.

But the video hasn't just sparked a resurgence in Te Reo - it's also meant the subject of the video that started it all, Jershon, has been getting a whole lot more attention.

His mother, Learna Karena, says that hasn't gone to his head.

"He's a humble kid. He told me 'I hope people don't treat me any differently', because that's not him - he's a great young lad. He's pretty grounded," she said.

Ms Karena says all Jershon's interested in is pleasing his family, which he has done - and revealed it was actually his ancestors' hope that Te Reo would live on that resulted in him learning it at a young age.

"The cool thing is he doesn't really have to try that hard [to speak Māori at work], because he's already fluent," Ms Karena said.

"When he was born, our grandparents were still alive - that generation were Māori speakers. They looked at their great-grandchildren with some sort of hope of claiming part of our cultural heritage.

"I guess I wanted to give my children the opportunity that I didn't have, that my parents didn't have; I wanted my children to have it and to reclaim it for ourselves, because it would've died in my grandparents' generation."

The recent rise in Te Reo in Hastings comes at a good time, with Māori Language Week kicking off next Monday.