Pastor Ngarima George is placing the blame on the Ministries of Culture and Education, saying both must to do more to ensure the language is promoted and preserved.
“Today when I speak Cook Islands Maori to any kids, they say “Huh? What did you say?’ A generation is growing up not knowing the language.”
George said he believes Cook Islands Maori is being taught in schools but, based on his interactions with children, not well enough.
“They have got programmes but maybe they’re not functioning very well.”
He called on staff at the Ministry of Education to take the issue more seriously and ensure every child is being taught the language in an effective and relevant way.
Knowing the language is central to understanding your identity as a Cook Islander, he said.
“It’s very important that every Cook Islander comes to know who they are, where they come from and where they’re heading.”
He is also pointing the finger at the Ministry of Culture, which he believes has taken its eye off the ball.
“I would say the team there are not doing much.”
He said the Ministry must run more events and activities which keep the language alive and thriving. George worked at the Ministry of Culture in the 1970s and again more recently, from 2004 to 2010, when he was eventually dismissed.
He said a strong team existed in his time, which started a number of programmes to preserve the culture and language, including mire tarai vaka (making of the traditional canoe), mire kaa (making of ropes), and mire maooro (traditional massage).
“Today all these activities have been pushed aside. It’s sad.”
He added that parents are not being encouraged to speak the language to their kids.
George, who is developing a dictionary of the Manihiki dialect, said he and his wife will happily start teaching Bible in schools, in Cook Islands Maori, if they are allowed.