UK high commissioner in New Zealand Laura Clarke to learn te reo

The British high commissioner in New Zealand is set to learn te reo Māori after witnessing the increasing integration of the language and culture. 

High commissioner Laura Clarke was posted to Wellington in January after studying New Zealand's indigenous language and culture in London, the Guardian reports. She says New Zealand's increasing use of teo reo make learning it a "non-negotiable" requirement. 

"I have been travelling to New Zealand for a long time now [and] over the past few years there has been a massive change in terms of the resurgence of te reo," Ms Clarke told the Guardian.

"I think New Zealand is becoming increasingly bilingual and I actually think you're not credible now if you don't make an effort," she said, adding that the commission will be recruiting its first Māori affairs adviser.

It comes after the Duchess of Sussex was praised for using te reo Māori in her first speech in New Zealand last week. Meghan greeted the crowd of New Zealand political figures and leaders with "tēnā kotou katoa," receiving a round of applause. 

Prince Harry was also lauded for his use of te reo Māori in his speech in Rotorua during the final day of his visit to New Zealand with Meghan. The prince then led a waiata himself, singing all of the words to Te Aroha in te reo.

Ms Clarke lauded efforts in New Zealand to heal the relationship with the indigenous population, which the Guardian notes is "still disproportionately represented in low social-economic indicators" and "incarceration rates". 

An October survey conducted by ActionStation and the University of Otago found that most Māori believe their over-representation in prisons is a direct result of colonisation and racism - and experts agree. 

The high commissioner's comments come after a recent Statistics New Zealand survey found more than half of people are in favour of introducing te reo Māori as a core subject in primary schools. It found that attitudes towards learning te reo were changing. 

Ms Clarke's three young children are learning te reo at school in New Zealand, the Guardian reports. She says making an effort to speak some te reo "should be the new normal". This reflects calls to have te reo taught more in schools. 

The Minister for Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, said in September that te reo will be a "core subject" in primary and intermediate schools by 2025. But she admitted there is a "huge challenge ahead"

"It's really hard to find teachers," she told The AM Show, adding that often Māori language teachers "get picked up and taken into the private sector". 

Not everyone is a fan of making te reo education a core subject in schools. Winston Peters, leader of coalition partner New Zealand First, is opposed to making it compulsory, as is leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges. 

The Greens want to put the accelerator down, however, and make learning te reo Māori a core subject in all schools - not just primary and intermediate - by the 2025 target.

"There was a generation that were discouraged from speaking te reo and punished and there is a strong sense of needing to put that right," Ms Clarke told the Guardian.

"Identity politics are big [in New Zealand] and there is a sense of righting past wrongs."


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