The Chocolate Bar that may have Broken the Camel’s back

I am not opposed to using Te Reo in our community, but I am opposed to Te Reo being forced upon us. I have written this blog for several reasons, one being Whittaker’s labelling one of their chocolate bars in Te Reo, which recently upset some people. Whilst this may seem trivial, it relates to how a bilingual society should evolve.

I do not mind if Whittaker’s want to use Te Reo labelled chocolate, so long as they also have an English version. This is being bilingual and I am happy with that. But please, do not force me to use Te Reo if I do not want to.

I get emails with a greeting in Te Reo but do not expect me to reply in the same manner, if I chose not to. I have my own way of saying ‘hi’ or ‘dear’.  English is my language and I am happy to use it. It is the main language and the means of communication for most New Zealanders, for the moment anyway. Although some people want to change that.

I do not mind a bilingual society. However, there seems to be an aggressive trend to reduce English, or to not use it at all. A good example of this is when I was recently told about a father who rang his son’s school to advise them that his son was sick for the day. The automated phone system was all in Te Reo, not bilingual, so he hung up. Later that day when the school rang him to ask where his son was, he told them that because the message was in Te Reo, he hung up because he did not understand what the options were. Fair enough. I guess his principal disagreement was that Te Reo was being forced on him. If the message was in both Te Reo and English, his reaction may well have been different.

In other words, the school, and by extension, the education system is now forcing people to communicate in Te Reo, rather than providing the option to choose. This is an ideologically driven narrative to force people to speak and communicate in another language. As the saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right. Early in the last century, Māori were forced to speak English rather than Te Reo. Of course, this was wrong. But at the time, it was the ideological thing to do. It was just as wrong during that century to force left-handed pupils to write with their right hands. My partner remembers being hit over the knuckles when writing left-handed, something I cannot fathom today.

The same applies now. I cannot understand why we are being forced to only greet in Te Reo, both verbally and in emails, or when the school phone message is all in Te Reo. In other words, Te Reo is being forced upon us, rather than being encouraged. Joel Maxwell, a Stuff Pou Tiaki reporter, said he will only use Te Reo when out and about during September. He is not going to use Te Pakeha (English) as he calls it. An insult in itself. Such language does not help. Inevitably, people will rebel against this forced position, slur and insult.

Like many people, I was repelled when watching the TV1 weather forecast on a Sunday recently. It was presented mostly in Te Reo. I objected to this and switched to TV3. I have not been back to the TV1 news since. What is forgotten is that Māori have their own TV channel to use Te Reo, something I was initially involved with in my personal business capacity.  There is a deeper problem as a friend highlighted to me. He is an ex-weatherman and he stated that essentially, presenting the weather on TV is a safety message. If people cannot understand the safety message, then lives are being potentially put at risk.  Again, for ideological reasons, rather than common sense and safety, Te Reo is being forced upon us.

Another argument is that our education system in many ways is failing. Many children are not attending school regularly, and only approximately 35% of those coming into secondary school have passed basic literacy and numeracy standards. However, via government directive, the new intake of teachers must learn Te Reo. The point is, that the government want teachers to force the learning of Te Reo on all students, when there is a basic failure in students to understand how to write, read and communicate in English. Many are also failing basic maths. Once again, it is the thin edge of the wedge, where Te Reo is being forced upon both teachers and children, rather than allowing an evolution of a bilingual system.

Of course, opponents of this view will say we need to force people to become a bilingual society. This should not be the case. It is important to encourage and develop a bilingual society over time. As Elizabeth Rata stated in her speech to the ACT party conference, “I support the activities of those in civil society who value and engage in Māori language and culture. A liberal civil society is where we meet in all our differences – indeed society is at its most creative when diversity is practised and enjoyed by all.” However, it should not be forced upon us. People should have the right to choose whether they want to speak Te Reo, and many people are doing that. In some cases, however, people are being forced to speak Te Reo. Thus, the government’s approach is divisive and it only stands to reason that people are rebelling against it. The renaming of a chocolate bar in Te Reo is possibly the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

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