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Cook Islands people need to value their language: Turua

Tuesday 6 December 2022 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Culture, Local, National

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Cook Islands people need to value their language: Turua
Secretary of Cultural Development Anthony Turua during his recent trip to Wellington, New Zealand. Picture: Picture: SUSAN LOVE DE MIGUEL/22120220

Secretary of Cultural Development Anthony Turua said if one did not know their Cook Islands language, then they are not a Cook Islander.

Turua while speaking at the Cook Islands National Feminist Forum held at The Edgewater Resort and Spa last week said his ministry wanted Cook Islands people to value their language.

There are about 85,000 Cook Islanders in New Zealand “who are wanting to learn the language”.

According to Turua, who recently returned from Wellington, 60 per cent of these Cook Islanders in New Zealand are youths “who are crying to learn the language and culture”. 

University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Cook Islands campus director, Dr Debbie Futter-Puati said Cook Islands Maori language needed to be taught in schools.

Futter-Puati said parents should demand that the language course must be provided for Cook Islands children.

“We don’t have schools implementing a language policy that says up until the end of Grade 3 everything will be taught in Maori, why not?”

Futter-Puati said she understood the complexity behind it and that a good teacher education programme was needed.
“If we don’t have teachers that can do this, the policy can’t be practiced because as cultural expert Jackie Tuara pointed out three generations have been denied this part of their education.”

Tupapa Maraerenga performing Ura Pa’u in the cultural section of Te Maeva Nui celebrations on Wednesday night at the National Auditorium. Photo: MELINA ETCHES/22080411

However, Futter-Puati disagreed with Turua’s comments that those who did not know their Cook Islands language should not be considered a Cook Islander.

She says after the age of eight it is difficult for one to learn their mother tongue. And if one knew their mother tongue from a young age then learning a second language would be easy, she added.

“The problem in the Cook Islands is that people are never in a situation where one is forced to converse in Maori.” she added.

Participant Hereiti File, who is learning Te Reo Maori, asked the panelists what can be done to create a curriculum in primary and secondary school education levels.

File also said that when she sat for the NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement), the exam was all about New Zealand history and asked what can be done to apply Cook Islands context to such external exams.

Cultural expert Jackie Tuara said parents needed to do their part. “If parents can speak the language then teach their children and if they cannot then they must learn with their children.”

Tuara also said that the Cook Islands language can be taught from Early Childhood Education level if a teacher is available to teach the language.