Language is a waka, and kaiako Tania Sharee Williams is handing out oars.
For the past five years, Ms Williams has taught te reo Maori professionally across Otago and Southland, and is now offering children’s classes in Oamaru.
Ms Williams did not grow up in a Maori-speaking household.
Her father moved from the top of the North Island to Dunedin, where he met her pakeha mother, and where Ms Williams was later born.
When she was 9, her mother took her to Dunedin’s Araiteuru marae, where she became immersed in Maori culture.
“I was not raised around my iwi, but we were gifted by Kai Tahu Araiteuru,” Ms Williams said.
Like children of her marae, some Maori children did not have a strong connection or sense of belonging to their culture, she said.
By teaching te reo, she wanted to give them what the marae gave her – an opportunity to know themselves.
“I’m passionate about who I am, and the identity and authenticity it has given me as a person.
“I want to share that with other people so they can grow with a sense of belonging to their community.”
And for non-Maori, Ms Williams wanted to demystify the culture and break through barriers.
The language provided a link to Maori culture and the people of this land, offering an opportunity to “know” Maori and grow closer as a nation, she said.
“Te reo is a waka to widen lenses and create sustainable connections that will serve us in the present and the future,” she said.
“We are one nation, ahakoa ko wai, ahakoa no hea [no matter who you are, no matter where you are from].”
Ms Williams used the Takina method of teaching, which was developed by Ropata Paora.
It was a visual and dynamic way of learning, enabling students to build real-world conversational skills by learning vocabulary and sentence structures in a way that becomes second nature in everyday language contexts.
Last term, Ms Williams taught weekly lessons for pupils at Totara School.
“I am truly grateful for the opportunity as the children and staff are responding positively with fantastic participation.”
The children, and students at her night classes, had responded well to the Takina method.
“I love the transferable ability of the methodology to engage all ages, at all stages.”
Despite being one of New Zealand’s two official languages – the other being sign language – te reo was not taught as extensively as English, she said. She was pleased more people were making the choice to learn te reo Maori, “a pure language derived from this land”.
As a teacher, she wanted to help people build a relationship with the culture and language.
“It’s all about empowering people.
“I’ve been empowered by my culture.”
Ms Williams had been travelling from Dunedin to Waitaki to support the Oamaru Language School, teaching adults who were looking to boost their skills.
Starting July 28, the new classes on offer would be held at St Kevin’s College on Wednesdays between 3.45pm and 4.45pm, for children aged 5-17.
To enrol, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ms Williams on 022 6908-656.
Next year, Ms Williams would run all the classes out of the Araiteuru marae in Dunedin.