It’s almost exhausting hearing the lengths couple Komene Cassidy and his partner Paulette Tamati-Elliffe go to to retain and revitalise te reo Māori in their hometown of Dunedin.
The pair were recently presented with a Māori Language Commission award at a ceremony at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.
The graduates of Te Panekiretanga o te reo Māori, which is run with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, are the first South Islanders to win the annual Ngā Tohu Reo Māori award for Te Tira Aumangea, which recognises the promotion and regeneration of the language.
It’s not surprising why.
The pair work tirelessly organising events that help to promote the language including a one-day reo rumaki programme for children who attend mainstream schools.
Komene (Ngāpuhi, Ngai Takoto), a te reo Māori teacher at King’s High School in Dunedin, and Paulette (Kāi Te Pahi, Kāi Te Ruahikihiki (Ōtākou), Te Atiawa, Ngāti Mutunga), who is the programme leader of the Ngai Tahu Kotahi Mano Kāika programme, have also been heavily involved in Kura Reo in Te Waipounamu for the past decade.
Komene took up the role at the school when they didn’t have anyone to help the students with their external assessments.
“I just sort of jumped in and helped them with thei NCEA and the school asked if I would come back the followng year.”
His collaborative efforts were recognised when King’s High School with Queen’s High School had a combined team (He Waka Kōtuia) that competed at a national kapa haka championship – a first for Dunedin.
With Paulette they have established Ngā Manu Kōrero in Dunedin and regularly run local events for Te Wiki o te reo Māori and wānanga that has a large focus on te reo Māori, local history and stories using Kai Tahu reo.
“Over the years we have strategised ways forward that we can do to keep te reo Māori as the priority in the eyes of our community.”
Komene says the couple made a conscious decision before the birth of their 13-year-old son that as second language learners, who did not grow up in strong Māori speaking environments, that their childrens’ world would be different to their own.
“We didn’t have a strong te reo Māori upbringing but it was something we always wanted, it is something we are trying to create within our communities.”
“There’s a groundswell of families in Dunedin who are choosing to raise their children in te reo Māori . We all go on holidays together and do things like fishing and swimming, whatever the activity and we do it all in te reo Māori.”
While it’s clear the couple’s schedule is a full one when they’re not focusing on te reo Māori they shift their attention to the greater social good and helping others in the community.
Komene and Paulette lend their talents to assist local GPs with their Māori clientelle.
“We also do social work with kids. If they know little about their taha Māori or come from rough backgrounds or from a gang background we work alongside them.”
“We are trying to be positive Māori role models to these kids and to the rest of our rangatahi,” he said.