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'Kia Kaha te Reo Māori’


Antonia Watson


ANZ New Zealand Ltd.

Whakairo created for ANZ by carver Arekatera Maihi.

48 years ago today, the Māori language petition was delivered to Parliament calling for te reo Māori to be taught in schools.


The petition had over 30,000 signatures and became the starting point for a significant revitalisation of te reo.


As a result, the Government of the day introduced the teaching of Māori in primary and secondary schools as an optional extra.


Three years later we began celebrating Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week.


1972 wasn’t that long ago and it is hard to reconcile that moment in time with where we are today.


Progress has been slow, but I feel as a country we’re starting to embrace this part of our culture that makes New Zealand unique.


We’re beginning to see the value that a greater understanding of te reo and tikanga brings to us as a nation.


Reflecting back on my school years I could count to 10 in Māori and sing a few waiata, but that was it. 


Now I hear my colleagues and friends proudly talking about how their kids effortlessly use a pepeha when introducing themselves and explain to their parents the importance of rolling their Rs.


Māori language is becoming more integrated, we’ve gained a greater understanding of tikanga and, for younger generations, te reo has become part of everyday conversations.



"I still get nervous speaking, I worry I’ll get it wrong and potentially cause offence, but it is important for me to keep it up."

Antonia Watson, CEO, ANZ New Zealand Ltd.



All this strengthens our identity as New Zealanders. Last year I committed to speaking more te reo and understanding tikanga Māori.


I’ve learned a lot and gained the confidence to make small changes.


From stepping outside the safety of a written greeting in an email, I now feel comfortable opening external customer events and staff meetings with a mihi and greeting my colleagues in te reo.


I still get nervous speaking, I worry I’ll get it wrong and potentially cause offence, but it is important for me to keep it up.


Late last year I was invited to speak at the Women in Leadership Summit and, with guidance from Precious Clarke, used the opportunity to open with a mihi and sprinkle te reo through my speech.


It was a daunting experience to get on stage in front of so many people and deliver, but I thought to myself ‘tū whitia te hopo’! (feel the fear and do it anyway!)    


I still have a long way to go and I may never be fluent, but a better understanding of tikanga and being able to have decent pronunciation are realistic goals to have.


This year the theme for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori is again, 'Kia Kaha te Reo Māori’ - let’s make the Māori language strong.


We can all choose to use te reo and every time we do, even with simple words or greetings, we contribute to revitalisation of the language and culture. Ahakoa iti, akona, kōrerohia – learn a little, use a little.



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