A celebration as part of Cook Islands Language week in New Zealand in 2022. Photo: Tupu Araiti/ 23080436.
Thousands of Cook Islanders across Aotearoa New Zealand are celebrating their language this week, but for the majority, their knowledge of Cook Islands Māori is declining. Rachael Nath, RNZ Pacific journalist, reports.
reo Māori Kūki' Āirani, or the Cook Islands Māori language, is at risk of
disappearing as a preference from the native tongue to English grows.
language is listed on the UNESCO Oceania endangered languages as speaking in
Kūki' Āirani decreases at an accelerating pace among younger generations.
chief executive of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone,
said “only nine percent of the Cook Island community in Aotearoa speak Kūki'
main native language of the Cook Islands is Cook Islands Māori, which belongs
to the same language family as New Zealand Māori but there are also several distinct
dialects and other languages spoken.
latest Cook Islands census in 2021 showed the population of the 15 islands that
make up the small nation is fewer than 15,000. New Zealand remains the largest
home to a thriving Cook Islands community, with over 80,000 people and about
28,000 living in Australia.
such a vibrant Cook Islands community in Aotearoa, the natural question is why
te reo Māori Kūki' Āirani is on the decline.
Stephen May from the School of Māori and Indigenous Education at the University
of Auckland said within the Cook Islands communities in Aotearoa, only 7 per cent
of those under the age of 15 can speak Kūki' Āirani.
very challenging to maintain a language if young people aren't speaking it or
if parents aren't passing it on to their children."
explained that years of research into preserving this language has revealed
that intermarriages and lack of educational support threatened Kūki' Āirani.
tends to happen in countries like Aotearoa, which is English language dominant,
that often, if there's only one parent who speaks Cook Islands Māori, they
switch to English with the children," he said.
May said to preserve this language Cook Islanders needed to adopt a holistic
family language policy.
there are Cook Islands Māori speakers in the family, one of them should
continue to speak to the children in Cook Islands Māori, even if the other
system not doing enough
Zealand's education system is also not doing enough. May said there were
"very few meaningful bilingual education options for Cook Islands
levels of bilingual education or immersion education, which are levels one or
two,.. programmes [need to be] established and expanded, to strengthen the use
of Cook Islands Māori in Aotearoa."
we are to see a real change in the preservation of Cook Islands Māori, the
challenge now is to extend bilingual programmes into the primary sector, he
have models for that, of course, the Māori medium, but we do have some very
strong Pacific bilingual programmes, predominantly Samoan with some
shows that bilingualism in any combination of languages is an educational,
social, and cognitive advantage.
believed minority languages, including Pasifika languages, were threatened by
the emphasis placed on learning English.
a] presumption particularly among parents that because they're in an English
language dominant context, like Aotearoa, that their children must learn English,
and no one's contesting that," he said.
what often happens is that English has been learned at the expense of other
of preserving a language
onus to preserve and promote Cook Islands Māori goes beyond culture.
said New Zealand has "a constitutional and political commitment to try and
maintain the language".
Islanders have been New Zealand citizens since 1949, and Cook Islands Māori is
a language in the realm of New Zealand," he said.
just for cultural reasons, although they're really significant, but also
because maintaining or establishing bilingualism in Cook Islands Māori and
English has a whole lot of educational, social and wider advantages."
for Pacific Peoples Barbara Edmonds said deepening the bonds between the Cook
Islands community and their cultural traditions is a focus which is aimed to be
achieved by this year's 'Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani - Cook Islands
opening the 2023 Cook Islands Language Week celebrations in Aotearoa, Edmonds
highlighted the strong shared ties.
Islands community share deep whakapapa ties with tangata whenua in Aotearoa
through indigenous languages," she said.
the week, we're continuing to support ties between Tangata Kūki 'Āirani and
their languages through cultural traditions - including song, dance, and pe'e
(chants) - of their enua (island) and vaka (tribe)."
Islands language week ended yesterday (NZ time).