By Rosemary Rangitauira 27/10/2021

Te reo Māori immersion workshops, Kura Reo, changed the trajectory of Dr Awanui Te Huia’s life and set her on a new course of research to explore.

Awanui’s initial research background is in Māori health and social psychology. For the past 10 years, her passion for research includes the links between Māori knowledge and psychology, and the experiences of Māori language learners as well as New Zealand biculturalism.

Awanui, who affiliates to the hapū of Ngāti Paretekawa (Ngāti Maniapoto), says her love for te reo Māori was born from her relationship with her native te reo Māori-speaking Koro (Grandfather) and was reignited as an adult as a result of attending Kura Reo, after spending a year in Japan.

“I had been in health research through my background in psychology up until the point where I began attending Kura Reo. These wānanga (weeklong live-in workshops) are a space where I felt both extensively challenged, yet immensely fulfilled. I was exposed to some of the great thinkers in Māori language revitalisation, which changed the course of my research and my life in many respects.”

A senior lecturer at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University in Wellington, Awanui has written a book that’s due for release by mid-next year.

It will focus on the experiences of tangata whenua who are learning te reo Māori, and will highlight the policy changes needed to support language revitalisation.

Awanui says the book builds on a technical report published in 2019 by Te Mātāwai called Kia Manawa Ū ki te Reo Māori, which she worked on alongside Dr Maureen Muller, Tai Ahu and Ririwai Fox.

“The technical report, which is now available, includes responses from over 1,000 Māori language learners, pre-learners and confident users of te reo. The book will focus on the specific experiences of Māori language learners who have a whakapapa (lineage) connection to te reo.”

She says the upcoming book also explores the challenges experienced by ancestral language learners.

“It articulates some of the attempts that some tangata whenua have made to overcome ancestral language learning challenges, and highlights structural issues that require policy change to create necessary conditions for language revitalisation to thrive. The book also looks at the colonial harm – both historical and contemporary – and the ongoing expressions of white supremacy and its impacts on Māori people – who are kaitiaki (guardians) of te reo Māori.”

Awanui has been a lecturer at Victoria University for more than ten years.

“I love working at Te Kawa a Māui. My colleagues and the students who I work with, te whānau o Te Herenga Waka, and Te Herenga Waka Marae itself, make working here a real privilege.”

She tells us that her whānau on both sides of her whakapapa (lineage) inspired her to become a researcher.

“I come from a whānau of writers – both fiction and non-fiction – and researchers, so it was natural for me to find comfort in research.”

Bonus Read 

Dr Awanui Te Huia says it’s important that kaupapa and mātauranga Māori continue to be explored.

“It is part of our country’s DNA. Our tūpuna Māori were researchers, and our research needs to acknowledge its whakapapa. Due to processes of colonisation and the violent dispossession of our resources; language and identities, Māori knowledge systems have also been interrupted. Part of our privilege as Māori researchers is to reciprocate the sharing of knowledge that we have been gifted. This means giving our time and aroha (love) to the mātauranga that our tūpuna created over hundreds of years so that it continues indefinitely.”

She encourages emerging Māori researchers to find people and practices that spiritually and emotionally nourish them and keep them safe as they grow in their respective research areas.

Click on the links below for more research written by Dr Awanui Te Huia: