In celebration of International Mother Language Day, culture minister Teariki Heather yesterday revived the dormant Te Kopapa Reo, or Te Reo Maori Commission.
Heather formally re-appointed the former members of the commission, which for four years has been inactive.
The commission was initially set up under the Te Reo Maori Act, which government passed in 2003 and which lists reo Maori as an official language of the Cook Islands. It was drafted to formally recognise the local language, as the 1965 constitution lists only English as an official language.
The 2003 act also created the commission – a body which it stipulates should include the secretary of the Ministry of Cultural Development, the secretary of the Ministry of Education and the president of the Are Ariki – or the representatives said people appoint – and one representative each for vainetini and youth.
Yesterday Heather re-appointed culture secretary Sonny Williams as chairman of the commission. Additionally he re-appointed Ina Herrmann, who represents the Ministry of Education, and Travel Tou Ariki who represents the Are Ariki.
The vainetini representative is Jane Kora, who also brings northern group dialect knowledge to the table, and John Herrmann has been appointed the youth representative on account of his teaching experience.
Each member was yesterday re-appointed for a term of three years.
Williams says the commission faces a “heavy task” in preserving and promoting the Cook Islands Maori language.
“Every country wants its story, legends and history told – so do we, and better we tell it in our own language,” he said. “Our people have a lot of wisdom – and we can only capture the essence in reo Maori.”
He explained that the commission’s priorities are to create a national standard – a database of all words in all reo Maori dialects – and to devise new words which describe elements of modern culture. Williams says most recently the commission received a request for a Maori word to describe ‘data files’.
The goal is to make both databases available for people in the Cook Islands, but also for Cook Islanders overseas.
The commission relies on sources like the Bible, the Savage and Buse dictionaries and the writing of elderly people. Williams says the commission will need help in achieving its goal, and will be seeking support from orators, tumu korero and Maori teachers. It is also hoping to expand its database to include Pukapukan words, for example.
Williams ended yesterday’s re-appointment ceremony with a quote he recalled: “At the death of a language so dies much of mankind’s wisdom and ingenuity”, he said, noting that the nation should consider preserving te reo Maori a top priority.