As part of this year’s Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, Heidi Brickell, Learning Specialist, Learning & Public Programmes opens up about her journey learning te reo Māori.

Ka ai te waka Matahourua ki te toka tū moana a Te Rerenga o Te Aohuruhuru, ā ka kake ake ahau,

Ka huri whakatetonga tōku kānohi, i reira tūtaki ai te awa Mataikona ki te Moana-nui-ā-Kiwa,

Ka whai ōku kānohi i te takutai, ka huri whakatetokerau, i reira rere ai te awa Owahanga,

E karapoti ana aua wai i tōku papakāinga a Te Hika o Papauma.

Koiā hoki te ingoa o te marae, ko Kupe te tangata,

E here ana ō mātou aho ki a Kahungunu, rātou ko Rongomaiwahine, ko

Rangitāne, ko Apakura,

Ko Cindy Grace tōku whaea, Ko Mark Brickell tōku pāpā,

Ko Heidi Brickell ahau.

That pēpēhā links me back through my mother to an ancient time, the bones of remnants of stories which reside on the land described there. She didn’t teach me to speak Māori, she didn’t know how, and wasn’t particularly interested in learning. She expressed her Māoritanga through her relational orientation, her inclusive nature and her love for people. I think that whakapapa expresses itself more through me in curiosity, creativity and playfulness with knowledge.

I was always drawn to te reo Māori as a child. Even learning to count to a hundred, I was fascinated by how its building blocks put things together differently than English did. So, you could say te reo engaged my mind like a Lego set.

In high school, I got the chance to dive deep into my reo. I was lucky to have incredible, gentle teachers whose respect I could feel as they led me on journeys of letting go of sense and grasping it anew, which is what you do when you learn a second language.

I enjoyed the struggle of learning to comprehend and articulate the world through spiritually rich delineations so full of echoes and metaphors of landscape. The whole geometry of Māori was different. I found it so exciting as my tongue tripped its way through the cadences of its rerenga – its flowings, its sentences. Maybe because I also loved to paint, I was fascinated by how the language led my imagination. It was like watching the outlines of the way I knew the world to be carved up in English dissolve and be redrawn according to different coordinates. 

Those teachers treated me like I was Māori too, even though I’m very pale, and it meant a lot to me. Their acceptance of me gave me the sense that I could be exactly who I was – however unique – and still belong.

In my early adult years, I focused on my art for a long time. During this period, keeping up my reo Māori was hard as I increasingly had no one to speak it with. By the time I finished my Master of Fine Art, I missed te reo too much. So, I took an immersion course and ended up training to teach in Māori Medium schools. It seemed like a way I could do for other young people what those kaiako had done for me. It also seemed like the best way to be able to drench my mind in te reo Māori (our word for immersion also means to drown). I taught in Kura Kaupapa for almost four years.

I love the job I have at the Museum because I still get to instil respect and wonder for mātauranga Māori into a diverse range of tamariki. But I also get a lot more space for the research and creative side that renews my wairua. I hope the learning resources that I am working on here will be useful to teachers doing the most important labour in our kura, as they build up. Being here is incredible because it’s also a place where te reo Māori is increasingly alive. It’s testament to how the reo has spilled out from our kura and is starting to permeate mainstream life in Aotearoa once more. In my work office alone, there are five people with whom I can both dive deep into life’s big questions and crack stupid jokes in the language of our tupuna every day!

Read more from Heidi

Lost in translation

Lost in translation

Embedding mātauranga (Māori knowledge frameworks) into the Museum’s education programmes is about more than simply translation of terms.

In this blog, we kōrero with Heidi about creating environments where te reo Māori speakers can learn in frameworks that align with their language. 

Read more