Māori Language Week: Kelvin Davis encourages fluent speakers to teach their children Te Reo

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, or Māori language week, should be a time of celebration for Māori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis. 

Instead he's mulling over a call by a predecessor, Dover Samuels, for the Crown to apologise to a generation of Māori beaten for speaking Te Reo at school. 

Davis knows only too well the impact that discouragement had on the lifeblood of the language. 

Quite a bit has changed since he roamed around Kawakawa as a teenager. He's a lot more comfortable in his own skin for one, and a large part of that comes from a decision as a 13-year-old to learn Te Reo.

"I would never say I was a fluent speaker of Māori," says Davis. "I'm always conscious when I stand up to speak that I probably sound like somebody who's learned the language, but the big thing is I'm standing up and I'm using it."

Davis had to learn by himself because his father didn't know and couldn't teach him. While he's sympathetic to the call for a Crown apology, he believes the fault in his whānau was closer to home.

"I actually blame my grandparents because they were of the mind it's going to be a Pākehā world, that's the language of the future - and how wrong they were. I blame them, two fluent speakers, not speaking Māori to their five sons."

Whether it was being physically discouraged, or just not encouraged to speak the language, generations of Māori lost the ability to speak Te Reo - but the impact went much deeper than just the loss of language.

There was the loss of mana, the loss of leadership and the loss of connection.

For Davis, that meant sitting on the pae pae, or speakers bench, from a young age because so many others couldn't.

"I was barely out of high school and I was having to do that job on occasions... you have your setbacks, your uncles huffing and gruffing... you feel embarrassed, but the thing for me was it's embarrassing now, but it'll be more when I'm 65 and expected to be a fluent speaker," he says.

Just down the road, the generational importance of Te Reo is tangible. Ngawha's Correctional Facility say they are not a prison - and this is evident after being there. 

Tikanga Māori, or the Māori way of things, is part of Davis' Hōkai Rangi strategy to bring down the number of Māori in prison - and one man says it has changed his life.

"Unfortunately, it took me coming to prison to actually earn more of our te kainga and get more fluent in my Te Reo," he told Newshub. "It means a lot it. [It has] brought me back down to be a bit more humble."

All the men Newshub spoke to at the facility related Te Reo to a feeling of pride and mana, and felt eager to share it with their tamariki and mokopuna.

Davis knows, for the prisoners and others learning Te Reo, the journey won't always be easy - but he says setbacks can't stop you from something you love.