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Tatau tatau e . . . Lisa Potaka-Ross leads Oamaru Public Library staff in a waiata as part of the national Maori Language Moment.

Kia kaha tatou ki te korero Māori.

Let us be staunch in speaking Māori.

This week is Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week), but for many people in Aotearoa (New Zealand), speaking te reo Māori is a daily journey.

Embracing te reo makes Lisa Potaka-Ross feel closer to her culture and whakapapa.

Ms Potaka-Ross belonged to the “small” iwi Ngati Hauiti, but grew up in Christchurch with no immediate access to te reo.

Her grandfather was part of the generation of Maori reprimanded for using their language, and it was never passed on to his children.

In fact, the following generation was discouraged from using te reo and there was very little value placed on the language, she said.

That would not be the story for Ms Potaka-Ross.

Several years ago, she completed a Te Ataarangi course through the Ara Institute of Canterbury.

Te Ataarangi was a learning programme established in 1979 to help adults who did not have access to te reo, to “catch up”, she said.

For Ms Potaka-Ross, learning te reo felt restorative in a way.

“My mother died quite young and she never had te reo,” she said.

“I felt really driven to do it in her honour.”

Ms Potaka-Ross moved to Waimate about four years ago, and now works as a senior assistant and te kairuruku o nga ratonga Māori (Tikanga Māori co-ordinator) at the Waitaki District Libaries.

“There used to be a revitalisation movement. Now the idea is to make it a normal fixture and the more we embrace that kaupapa (initiative), the better.”

That was exactly what the Waitaki District Libaries were doing, she said.

Over the past year or so, Māori kaupapa (policy) and tikanga (customs) started being introduced in the every day functioning of the libraries bicultural philosophy not being made mandatory by the Waitaki District Council, nor mandated across the public sector, she said.

Library staff had the opportunity to learn te reo using the tākina method through the Oamaru Language School and every morning staff started their day with a waiata, usually led by Ms Potaka-Ross.

When singing, she could feel her “Māoritanga”.

“It’s so hard to put the feeling into words.”

Many people of her generation did not want to learn te reo, but others embraced it by building up vocabulary and conversational skills, she said.

“There’s no-one in this country that can’t participate at this level.”