One morning recently, in our usual frantic rush around the kitchen, we were struck by something we heard on the television in the background. Everything around us went quiet as we listened to an emotional kōrero on the use of te reo Māori in broadcasting, led by Breakfast co-host Jenny-May Clarkson and featuring Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson and former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd.
It came following many heightened discussions around the normalising of te reo Māori in Aotearoa that are leading to an increasing divide in this country.
We were moved by what we heard. Given that an important part of the kōrero was about the need to make space for these conversations, we wanted to make space for it here.
Ngā mihi to Marama Davidson for allowing us to republish her wise words, and to the Breakfast team for the honest, sensitive and inclusive handling of this emotive topic.
This is an abridged version of the conversation that appeared on TVNZ’s Breakfast between Jenny May Clarkson and Marama Davidson.
Jenny-May Clarkson: This conversation is one we've wanted to have for a while; we wanted to address the emails we get pretty much daily, often a number a day.
The comments, mostly complaints, over the use of te reo Māori on Breakfast, One News and Midday, and even remarks about the way some of our presenters look.
We want this to be an honest and inclusive conversation, but also acknowledging this could be confronting for some of you. I don't want that to be a reason to mute us or turn us off. Ultimately, our desire is to foster understanding and acceptance of the partnership this country is in. We can't do that unless we are open and truthful.
That said - we wanted to start by showing you the emails and messages we constantly receive. And to be honest, these are the kind ones, the ones appropriate to broadcast.
“I'm over the use of the word Aotearoa, switching channels.”
“The country I live in is called New Zealand. Not Aotearoa.”
“Speaking Māori with no English subtitles is disrespectful. Māori Language Week has finished.”
(And just a note on that, presenters translate what they've said following te reo words or sentences).
“I strongly object to mainstream news being invaded by a moko-wearing presenter, Māori have their own news channel.”
Occasionally though, we get messages like this: “Please continue to speak Māori. You don't realise how your attention to this inspires our whanau.”
And those of you kind enough, Māori mā, Pākehā mā, of all races and ethnicities who approach me on the street to support the use of te reo on our show: thank you. And to the beautiful man who spoke to me on Waiheke island yesterday morning. Thank you. Ngā mihi ki a kohe.
Marama Davidson: It was really emotionally triggering - seeing the examples of some of the negative feedback that the show receives, that you receive and many wāhine Māori receive in public places, especially in broadcasting.
And I want to say to people, like those fearful people: your mokopuna will enjoy learning te reo Māori. Your children will embrace understanding te ao Māori.
Because te reo Māori, me o nga tikanga, our language and our world view is beautiful. And this, Aotearoa, is the only country that can own it in a way that this country can.
What we've seen though, with more people naturalising te reo Māori and te reo Māori faces and our public broadcasting spaces and our public spaces, is that it is confronting some people's status quo and people need to understand that shifting your status quo and what you thought it meant to be a New Zealander, is not going to be as fearful as you're making it out to be. That embracing our country, our past, is the only way that we can have a more connected and cohesive united future together.
WATCH: Marama speak on Breakfast:
Jenny-May: How do you create space for that shift?
Marama: Tō kaha, tō maia, me ō hoa tautoku [Be strong, be brave, support each other].
The bravery of people like yourselves, the courage of people like yourselves, and your tauiwi, your Pākehā friends who are supportive of having te reo and of having these discussions in these spaces, is a massive part of how we help to shift people.
There are some people for whom that fear will remain cold and hard - there are so many many more who are just standing on the sidelines a little bit, maybe a little bit inquisitive and who want some encouragement to feel, ‘oh, I can be included, this is inclusive, embracing te reo Māori.’
Andrew [Judd] talked about looking at the meaning behind our words, our place names. They come with stories that mean a whole lot more. They put our places into a much more beautiful context than just being a name. They tell us who belonged here, the stories of what happened here. They tell us about the environment, the water, the mountains - these are beautiful things for all of our children to be able to learn about
Jenny-May: And we're not asking people to be Māori, right?
Marama: In fact, the strongest position that our tauiwi, that our non-Māori can take is to be themselves.
It is trying to be Māori that hasn't worked for some people who have tried to do that, but it is about being strong; as Pākehā, as all of the other incredible ethnicities and cultures that we have here, Te Tiriti understands that we have to embrace the inherent mana in everybody.
And that mana comes from who you are, who your ancestors are; to embrace your ancestors is the strong work, to be able to embrace our tangata whenua history here.
Editor’s note: At Ensemble we’re all about the intelligence and the whimsy, so if you’re coveting Jenny-May’s dress and think it looks familiar, it featured in this dreamy shoot and is currently on sale at Twenty-seven Names.