Episode 13: New Zealand Language Nests
Director: Michelle Smith
Language nests, an immersive program for babies and young children started in the 1980s have renewed the Maori people's pride in their history, language, and culture. Key to the program’s success is the involvement of the family and most importantly the grandparents.
Today Maori people are a nation that celebrate their history, language and culture. But Maori language wasn’t always a daily part of life. Over 30 years ago, Maori elders and advocates took action against the impending loss of the Maori way of life. The creation of ‘Kohanga Reo’ or language nests was key to Maori language revival. The success of these immersive programs for babies and young children is credited to the involvement of the whole family, including the grandparents. Twenty-six years later, there are hundreds of language nests throughout New Zealand. And they have become a model of language revitalization for indigenous communities around the world.
“I am following in my grandmother’s footsteps. She was a strong woman and she was a leader. She was a teacher as well. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have a place where we could learn and pursue our language and customs. So that’s why I followed in her footsteps. And I stand proud and strong just like my grandmother.” – Irihapeti Nepe
Irihapeti Nepe is a graduate of the first wave of language nests. Now a mother, she is doing everything possible to make sure her two daughters grow up in a Maori environment, including enrolling them in the language nests. Irihapeti is also passing on her Maori knowledge to a new generation of students. She is a teacher at the same primary school where she studied as a child.
“I remember how the place felt, how there was love and warmth in the house between the teachers and the children. The Language Nest helped me form great relationships that no one could break.” - Jade Robson
Spending time in the language nests has created lifelong bonds for Irihapeti and her former schoolmates. This group of friends continues to practice their cultural song and dance together as well as helping to raise each other’s children. The language nests have given birth to 60,000 graduates, a generation of Maori who have the opportunity to speak their language on a daily basis in both their professional and personal lives.