Māori language and culture celebrated in the USA

28 Aug, 2013
A contingent of AUT students travelled with staff to Washington DC for the Smithsonian Institution Folklife Festival to perform.

Te Ipukarea – The National Māori Language Institute and Te Whare o Rongomaurikura – The International Centre for Language Revitalisation (the Centre) co-hosted the Māori Language Revitalisation in Aotearoa/New Zealand Symposium as a side event of Washington DC based Smithsonian Institutes One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage Folklife Festival in early July.

The Folklife Festival

One million people visit the Folklife Festival each year and the opportunity to host a festival side event in the form of a symposium was presented last year said Professor Tania Ka’ai, Director of the Centre.
The symposium was used as a gateway for both AUT academics and students to share their knowledge and skill with a wider audience.

Poutama, a group of eight students from across the university (and supported by each of AUT’s faculties), performed alongside the academics celebrating the revitalisation of the Māori language. They performed items including traditional waiata, mōteatea, haka and poi.

AUT staff members and postgraduate students presented on a range of topics at the symposium. There was also a keynote address by Dr Timoti Kāretu, a Fellow of the Centre and Adjunct Professor of Te Ipukarea at AUT.

“He is renowned throughout the world as a language revitalisation expert,” says Professor Ka’ai.
The two-day symposium was live-streamed by the Smithsonian Institution with 5000 views from people in Asia, Europe, the USA, Canada and of course, New Zealand. Others, including New Zealand’s Ambassador to the US, followed the events via social media.

“It was really like a virtual classroom,” says Professor Ka’ai. “We were able to reach so many people using technology as well as have a strong presence in DC.”

The other events

Following on from the success at the Folklife Festival the group were asked to provide a short performance at a cocktail function held at the New Zealand Embassy to support the Centre’s efforts to engage further interest in its REO technology.

Ambassador Mike Moore hosted the function with guests from Capitol Hill and the White House, many of whom were visiting the New Zealand Embassy for the first time. This was a significant outcome of the on-going collaboration between the embassy and AUT.

“The Ambassador was inspired and moved by the event,” says Professor Ka’ai, “largely due to the combination of the Māori culture through the Poutama group’s performance and the suite of interactive language tools made available by our team here at AUT.”

Another special moment during the evening was the presentation of a photo of Dame Dr Rangimarie Hetet (who had made a korowai – a Māori cloak – for the Embassy in 1975) to the embassy by her grand-daughter who is an AUT PhD student in Te Ipukarea.

On to Hawai'i

A group continued on to Hawai’i for a 10-day language immersion programme in West O’ahu. The cultural exchange was organised by AUT senior lecturer Dr Dean Mahuta and Associate Professor Leilani Basham from the University of Hawai’i West O’ahu campus. She is also a Fellow of the Centre.

This year three top AUT students were chosen to spend 10 days with the university. The reciprocal agreement sees students from the University of Hawai’i West O’ahu spend time here in New Zealand in alternate years.

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