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Ko Taranaki te maunga – Parininihi ki Taipakē

Kia ora tātou

My name is Keri Opai and as the pepeha (iwi aphorism) indicates above, I hail from Taranaki.

I work for Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui, a national mental health, addiction and disability workforce development centre, as the paeārahi, responsible for engagement with and responsiveness to Māori people, language and culture in the contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand context.

During my four years in this role, I have had both the privilege and responsibility to create a new glossary of terms in te reo Māori for use in the mental health, addiction and disability sectors. I titled it: ‘Te Reo Hāpai – The Language of Enrichment’.

This was because I wanted to create a te reo glossary that anyone could access, that corrected and updated some Māori language already in use but also generated new words that didn’t exist previously – all from Māori worldviews and, importantly, from positive Māori worldviews, stemming from a strengths base, not a deficit base.

This has had its challenges, but it has been and continues to be a very rewarding and exciting journey!

I am really pleased with the way so many health professionals and indeed, people in all walks of life, have taken up the new vocabulary. From services learning a word a day to organisations naming their meeting rooms after some of the new terms, and from parents to clinicians embracing words and concepts like ‘takiwātanga’ (my word for autism – ‘his/her own time and space’), there has been a real show of support for Te Reo Hāpai and its inherent affirming philosophy.

I believe it is because there is a sincere appetite in this country, at this time, to respect, and to demonstrate respect, for Māori people, language and culture especially within health care and amongst health professionals.

Let me be clear – I think there is still a long way to go in regards to a real, fundamental paradigm shift where Māori things are a strong and integral foundation for a national identity but there are, at least, some basic ways and means that many Māori and non-Māori within health services are championing this ideal, and I’m ecstatic to say that Te Reo Hāpai has provided an opportunity for many people to express this desire to support something that is indigenous to this land where we all live.

We all know the statistics – Māori people are pretty much at the bottom of every negative statistic you can think of, so the conundrum is often posed – what can we do about it?

The answers are many and varied but a simple, great start might be to learn to pronounce te reo Māori.

This can’t cure cancer or strip diabetes from someone but it is a respectful and mana-enhancing act and that is something everyone can choose to contribute to or not. I have always found it better for my wellbeing if I hear my name and Māori words are pronounced correctly. That small act implies: “I care about Māori language” and by association, “I care about Māori culture” and it is exceedingly difficult to care for these things and not to care about the people from which they originated.

My kaumātua (elders) always told me: “He mana tō te kupu” – “Words have great power”. They meant that the power of language cannot be overstated. Words can crush a person’s self-esteem or uplift it to great heights and Te Reo Hāpai not only aims to lessen stigma and discrimination but is also an attempt to reframe thinking about mental health, addiction and disability that has already had far-reaching, positive effects in this country and indeed, around the world. Other indigenous people especially are looking at the glossary and exclaiming, “If Aotearoa can do it, so can we.”

My encouragement to the mental health, addiction and disability sectors, and the health sector in general, is to take the opportunity to demonstrate respect for the tangata whenua (indigenous people of the land) of Aotearoa by pronouncing te reo well and embracing and employing resources like Te Reo Hāpai – The Language of Enrichment.

Kia ora anō tātou

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