As New Zealand celebrates Te Wiki o te reo Māori 2020 businesses and workers are looking for ways to incorporate more te reo Māori into the workplace. 

Despite te reo being one of New Zealand's official languages, it's also categorised by UNESCO as one of the world's most vulnerable

But in the past few years there has been a big increase in those interested in learning te reo contributing to a resurgence of our indigenous language. 

The 2018 census reported a huge jump in the number of te reo speakers in Aotearoa, increasing from 150,000 in 2013, to more than 185,000 in 2018, showing that Kiwis are more interested in learning te reo than ever before. 

Start somewhere

Anahera Brown, MAS Direct Marketing Manager has made efforts to introduce and normalise te reo in her everyday working life since starting with the insurance company in 2016. 

"A few years ago we began a project that was named Project Koha. It was uncommon for MAS to use a Māori word for a cross-business project. 

"Project Koha laid the groundwork for the MAS Foundation, a philanthropic initiative we set up to make a difference to the health of people in New Zealand by seeking equitable health outcomes for the communities that need it the most, particularly Māori and Pasifika. 

"Given the enthusiasm for Project Koha, from there, staff at MAS began considering what other actions they could take within the business to increase the use of te reo.

"We started celebrating Te Wiki o te reo Māori internally and taking small steps towards creating a working environment that encourages and normalises the use of te reo".


Anahera Brown MAS staff member

"We just really wanted to get the message out there that it's okay to use te reo in the workplace. Prveiously there was a bit of awkwardness around people wanting to incorporate te reo into their day-to-day conversations but feeling like they couldn't for some reason," Anahera says.

Greetings mean everything

MAS now provides staff with resources that outline ways to incorporate te reo Māori in their email and everyday conversations. If staff want to communicate in te reo Māori they have the ability to do so with confidence, knowing they are using correct and appropriate terms. 

"We started asking ourselves –"What can we do to include more te reo Māori and why aren't we already doing these things?"

"The introduction of Te Reo Inihua (The Language of Insurance) was a really meaningful way of including te reo Māori in our practices. 

"We created a bi-lingual phrasebook using everyday insurance and investment terms to help incorporate te reo Māori in our every day work life," Anahera says. 

Other changes that MAS has implemented include translating the editor's note in their Member magazine OnMAS into Māori and reproducing the Chairman's Report and the MAS Foundation Report in the digital version of their 2020 Annual Report in te reo Māori.

"If you call our 0800 number the recorded voice message begins with 'kia ora'. If we're onboarding a new Member all communications from the get-go start with 'kia ora'. It's about being consistent and continuing to make meaningful changes that aren't just tokenistic," Anahera says.

Creating things that don't exist yet

The ultimate goal for MAS would be to translate their insurance policies into te reo Māori, although it's no easy feat. Often the necessary terminology does not yet exist in the Māori language, and because they are legal documents, it is important to ensure exact correlations. 

"It would be a great thing to do but it's hard – insurance and investment terms are really difficult to translate. From a legal perspective, you need to be sure that a particular term can be translated accurately with no ambiguity or subtle shifts in meaning," Anahera says. 

"When you are dealing with insurance policies and legally binding contracts there needs to be a lot of clarity, but often translating English into te reo doesn't end up being a like-for-like word substitution. 

"Being able to provide policies in both languages remains a challenge at the moment but it would be an amazing step towards the revitalisation of te reo Māori," she says. 

Get staff involved

A positive and easy way to get colleagues or staff involved in celebrating te reo is to get them actively involved. During Te Wiki o te reo Māori at MAS, staff members are invited to share their pepeha with the wide team. 

"Pepeha is a way to introduce yourself in Māori and show your connections to people and places that are important to you. It's a great way to celebrate our diverse team and te reo Māori," says Anahera. 

"For this whole month we've got staff from across the business taking a Māori word from Te Reo Inihua and recording themselves saying it – this helps bring those words to life. Every day we're posting a little video or audio clip on our internal channels saying that word out loud. This helps our people expand their te reo vocabulary as well as learn the correct pronunciation," Anahera says.

Examine, audit, identify, isolate

For businesses looking to become more inclusive of te ao Māori – a deep, honest analysis is required. 

Dr David Tipene-Leach is one of the founding members and present chair of Te ORA, the Māori Medical Practitioners Association. In this role he supports Māori medical practitioners in their ongoing battle to be heard beyond the consulting room doors and to push the wider profession in the pursuit of equitable outcomes for Māori.

David says that businesses looking to adopt a te ao Māori perspective need to deeply examine their organisation's attitudes and be honest about what they find. 

"There is a lot of rhetoric out there in institutional policy and meaningful action for change is a little harder to effect. Auditing your organisation to see if you are producing equitable outcomes in a general sense is the first necessary step to become more te ao Māori inclusive. 

"The next sensible step is to isolate specific issues you have identified and begin to address them. This is by no means easy – institutional racism underpins many of the issues we face in the health system and wider society. We need to be asking ourselves, what sorts of practices do we as an organisation have in place that automatically prevent equitable care?" he says. 

Proper pronunciation is key

A really easy thing that anyone can do to create an environment inclusive of te ao Māori is to learn proper pronunciation of Māori words, particularly names, says David. 

"Pronunciation really matters. In 2020 there's just no excuse for poor pronunciation of Māori names. If somebody pronounces my name correctly, I walk into that relationship with an open heart and a sharing mind. It's possibly the most important thing that you can do.

"A basic proficiency in te reo Māori is a good place to start – a love and respect for the language can lead people to act more courageously in medical practice," he says. 

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