Forty years ago, the first of Aotearoa’s kōhanga reo got under way in Wellington’s Wainuiomata. Within a year, there were more than 100 of these language nests. And, four years later, kura kaupapa were being born as well.
All sorts of Māori initiatives have followed on to save and strengthen the reo, tikanga and mātauranga Māori throughout the country. The three whare wānanga, for instance. The 20 iwi radio stations, too — and Māori Television.
Of course, there’s still been no sign of the funding or other support that would anywhere near match the investment in, and favouritism for, pro-Pākehā projects since 1840.
But there are legions of Māori teachers and journalists committed to and working for Māori values.
Oriini Kaipara is one of those journos, absorbing what she could through her days at the Hoani Waititi kōhanga and kura, and, now in her 30s, carrying on the struggle along with Pākeha, Pacific, Māori and other allies in the media. Here she is telling Dale about her helpers and her experiences.
Kia ora, Oriini. Your role as a TV presenter means you have a well-known face. But there’s quite a bit that we don’t know about you considering you’re on the TV in our homes so often. What can you tell us?
Well, my mum is Shirley Te Pou. And I’m one of her three daughters, two of them to my biological dad, Edward Kaipara, who has six children all up. My parents separated when I was young.
I was given my name Oriini by my paternal grandfather, Wī Keepa Kaipara. He hails from Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and his marae is Waihi near Tokaanu in Taupō. Ngāti Turumakina is his hapū. He named me after a close relative from the Marr family, our whanaunga from Ngāti Rangitihi. There’s a kōawa in Whakatāne called Te Orini that flows into the Whakatāne River, and I think that’s where my name comes from.
I was born in Whakatāne. The story goes that while my mum was in hospital with me, my grandad and grandmother went to visit her and, while she was sleeping, they picked me up, put me in the car with my sister Te Raina, and brought us to Auckland.
Mum begged them to bring us back to Kawerau, but my koro said: “If you want them, you have to come to Auckland.” So, she did, and we grew up with her and my grandparents in Avondale.
In fact, most of my whānau moved up to Auckland. That was in the early 1980s. We were part of the urban drift, the migrant move from our home kāinga to the urban centres to get mahi and to get away from all the violence that was in Kawerau at the time.
That’s an age-old story, isn’t it, where koro and nanny come and pluck their moko from the maternity hospital?
I suppose so. I believe they saved us, by getting us out of Kawerau and coming to Auckland, to create a new life.
At that time, kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa were being established, and when I was still a baby, my grandparents (Hori and Te Auta Te Pou) decided they wanted to be a part of that movement. So, they set up Te Whakamaanu Te Kōhanga Reo at Seddon High School, which is now known as Western Springs College. That’s how I first came to speak te reo Māori.
All my friends are pretty much my day-one hoa from kōhanga or from kura kaupapa Māori, and we all grew up in the same family circles.
They all had the same drive, same motivation, same vision. And they all wanted their children to be fully immersed in te reo and tikanga Māori, to prove that you could have a successful life and be fully Māori.
I want to salute your grandparents because, at the time, how were they to know that their efforts would morph into one of our most significant learning environments. So, your koro was a Te Pou. And you guys are a whānau known for political activity. For example, I think of Shane Te Pou, the political commentator who was with the Labour Party. Those are all your cousins?
Those are mum’s cousins. I thought you were going to say: “Oh, your Te Pou whānau are famous for rugby!” Uncle Matt Te Pou, Mum’s first cousin, has done some amazing things for te ao Māori as well as New Zealand and Māori rugby. He achieved great success as the head coach of the Māori All Blacks and as an ex-serviceman of our defence force.
You come from neat stock. And your schooling was through the kura system. Can you tell us something about those years?
From kōhanga, I went through two kura kaupapa, Waipareira and Maungawhau, before completing my secondary schooling at Te Wharekura o Hoani Waititi Marae.
When we started kura kaupapa, Mum began studying Māori to become a teacher through Te Puna Wānanga, the Auckland College of Education. At the helm of that waka was Nanny Tuki (Tuakana Nepe) and a few of her whanaunga from Ngāti Porou.
They were staunch and influential, captivating and intimidating, all at the same time. They were wāhine and tāne of great mana, of integrity, highly educated and fluent in both English and Māori — and they brought with them the old ways of doing things.
Nanny Tuki is who I and my whānau acknowledge as one of the notable forces who conceived, designed and developed Te Aho Matua, the philosophical base for all kura kaupapa Māori. She wrote it alongside Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira, Graham and Linda Smith, Pita Sharples, Cathy Dewes, Pem Bird, Elizabeth Rata, and Toni Waho.
Our pākeke were resolute in their mission and weren’t afraid to take on Pākehā, as well as the government and the institutions who didn’t believe in our kaupapa. Through Te Aho Matua, they armed us and future generations with the essential tools we need to sustain our culture into the future.
I had so many teachers. Back then, us kura kids saw anyone older than our generation as our collective mums, dads, aunties, uncles. It’s part of our culture, I believe.
My favourite teacher, my tino pāpā, was Pāpā Wati Epiha. He’s Ngāpuhi, more specifically Ngāti Kura and Ngāti Rehia. He was a hardcase, but also clever and a super talented pāpā to us. He taught us a lot, from mathematics to te ira tangata (human evolution) to te reo Māori me ngā tikanga. He was a master of music and would always carry his saxophone or guitar and jam a song or 10 with us and make us sing with him.
Our way of learning at kura was modelled on Māori traditions, largely through experience and reciting mātauranga tuku iho. We learned to retain information by reciting karakia and waiata tawhito, and through that we learned our pūrākau and pakiwaitara Māori.
We were taught to bring those stories and histories to life through performance, whether that was by running school theatre productions, skits, manu kōrero, or kapa haka.
At Hoani Waititi, Pāpā Pita Sharples was our rangatira. He wasn’t our teacher, but he was a prominent figure in our west Auckland community and dedicated to Hoani Waititi Marae.
Other influential leaders at our kura at the time included Fraser Delamere, Jack Wihongi, Tuini Hakaraia, Ereti Brown, Te Aroha Paenga and June Mariu. They weren’t teachers in the classroom, but they were instrumental in ensuring the mauri and mana of our marae was upheld.
I also came to know the late Ngāpō and Pīmia Wehi. After my grandad passed away in 1996, Koro Bub took my sister Te Raina and me under his wings. We began competing at regional and national kapa haka levels with Te Manu Huia and Te Waka Huia.
While at wharekura, a couple of my tuākana wrote to Te Taura Whiri, more specifically to Tīmoti Karetu, to ask him and his cohort of te reo Māori exponents to come and teach us how to speak and write te reo Māori properly. Surprisingly, Tīmoti and his cohort agreed, and the first kura reo for wharekura began in 1997.
Hoani Waititi, Rākaumangamanga and Ruatoki were the three wharekura from across the motu involved. Our teachers were Tīmoti, Mīria Simpson, Mate Kaiwai (the youngest daughter of Apirana Ngata), Anita Moke, Ngāhina Tūrae, Wharehuia Milroy, Waihoroi and Rahera Shortland, Wīha Te Raki Hāwea, and Te Haumihiata Mason.
Beyond these rangatira, were our friends’ parents: politicians, lawmakers, leading academics, freedom fighters, pioneers, broadcasters, kaitiaki marae, kaitiaki whenua, and haka leaders, among many others.
Looking back, I realise how very lucky we were.
Thanks for reminding us of the brilliant people who’ve helped in urban Māori settings over the years. Can you talk about being a young mum and attending film and television school at the same time? How did you manage to pull that together?
I graduated from wharekura when I was 16. Not long after, I discovered I was hapū. By the time I was 17, I had two tamariki. I was living at home with my mum and my stepdad at the time.
I’d resigned myself to being a teen mum, but my mum wouldn’t allow it. She knew I had the potential to go off and do pretty well at anything I put my mind to. So, she gave me an ultimatum: to find a career or go back to school. She wanted me to still experience life as a teenager, and so she offered to help me take care of and raise my two babies.
She told me: “You’re not staying home. You need to make something of yourself. I’ll have the kids, but you need to do something.”
That was the push I needed. And it so happened that the day we were having that kōrero, I picked up the Western Leader, a weekly west Auckland newspaper, and saw this huge ad about South Seas Film and Television School.
It said they were looking to take students, and there were a couple of scholarships available for those who qualified. So, I applied.
What influenced me was that, during my kura days, we had a lot of reporters visiting our school, because we were confident in our reo and tikanga. I became used to TV reporters and film crews being around — and I was comfortable being in front of a camera because I’d given interviews to some of those reporters.
From 1996, my tūakana from kura started working at Aotearoa Television Network, and a couple of mates are founding members of Pūkana. So, I had connections in the industry. And I thought: “Oh well, I’ll give it a go.”
I did the enrolment interview with South Seas the next morning, and that afternoon I got a call saying I’d been accepted and that I could have a full scholarship for the year.
So, there was no time to muck around.
Let’s turn now to Māori Television, Oriini, because you went on to work there for some years. What stands out for you about that initiative?
Māori TV — Whakaata Māori — was where I first grew my wings in television broadcast journalism. I made many a debut at Whakaata Māori. It’s the home ground of Māori media, I believe.
Like all the Māori media platforms, Whakaata Māori serves our people. They provide a perspective that’s long been missing from mainstream platforms.
I consider these places as safe havens for our stories and our voices — where our people aren’t compromised for the sake of ratings or commercial activity or any of that. And where our stories are cared for and treated with the respect that they deserve.
And it’s not just the stories. It’s also the people who own those stories, who own that mātauranga. They’re the people that you, Dale, and I, have been privileged to interview over all these years. They’re housed in our media pātaka. It’s our history.
Māori media platforms are part of the fabric of what makes Aotearoa Aotearoa.
I’m significantly older than you, Oriini, but I remember when people were still constantly mispronouncing “Pakuranga” and “Papakura” and “Manurewa”. So, we’re definitely witnessing a change. There’s not quite the same Pākehā resistance to things Māori as there once was.
Things have changed a lot in the last 20 to 30 years. I’m grateful the efforts of our pākeke weren’t in vain, but there’s still a very long way to go. There’s still pushback from Pākehā viewers around te reo, although there are also many Pākehā who are embracing our reo and culture.
Māori media has played a huge role in the revitalisation of te reo Māori. But our industry is just one of many that continue to champion te reo. There’s also music, law, government, business, education, tourism, finance, sports, arts and culture — each adapting and adopting te reo Māori, making it cool and normalising it every day.
We’re three generations deep into the kōhanga and kura kaupapa movements, and that alone makes me proud. I’m proud to come from, and still be a part of, these kaupapa — and I’m even more proud of all the whānau who take care of and look after our kura, tamariki and kaupapa to this day.
Whānau is at the very heart of kōhanga and kura, and even more so our ao Māori.
Now, my generation are the ahi kā of our kura. They are the teachers, the tumuaki, the innovators, and the keepers of our reo and tikanga. They are working and walking alongside our pākeke, and nurturing our own tamariki and mokopuna to live, breathe and stand tall in the world as Māori.
The thing that gets me is that there’s still just a small minority of Māori students attending our kura Māori. The latest statistics show less than three percent of the entire school population of New Zealand attend Māori medium schools. That’s just over 21,000 students.
We probably should acknowledge Newshub and your current employers, for recognising your abilities as a newsreader. What did you think was behind their decision to bring this young wahine toa on to their screens? Because, you know, many people made a big deal about you being the first newsreader with a moko kauwae on mainstream news.
I gauged their intention was to drive change. Newshub recognises there’s a need to be more inclusive of all cultures, but more importantly, they understand that there’s a responsibility to uphold te Tiriti and be more genuine in their approach to involve Māori, and to better reflect our society as a whole.
I was excited at the prospect of working at Newshub because I felt I could make a big difference. I saw it as an opportunity and a responsibility for me to go in and help realise and be a part of that change, by introducing more te reo on a regular basis, and representing our people and culture to the best of my ability.
However, I was also a little hesitant because our people still have a deep mistrust of mainstream media, and I wasn’t sure if the Newshub whare was actually ready to accept me and all my whānau, and the communities and networks that I come with.
But they did, and still do. I mean, they put on a whakatau for my whānau and me, which they’ve not done before, and it was the most moving and fulfilling experience for many of us. It felt as though te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā had come together for the first time. Many of the kaimahi had not been in a room full of staunch Māori before. Nor had many of my whānau seen so many Pākehā in one room before. It was certainly special.
There’s been a bit of pushback from a small fraction of our viewers who can’t stand te reo and get hōhā with me and some of the other presenters.
It’s a tough situation and most certainly not for the faint-hearted. Like I said before, there’s still a very long way to go for all of us — viewers and content creators.
I know some of our people still believe mainstream media is racist and only report negative stories about Māori, but I believe we’re turning a corner and seeing great progress.
For example, there was Stuff, in 2020, apologising for more than 160 years of reporting negatively about Māori — and going the extra mile to admit they’d been racist in their coverage. They’ve now set up systems internally to ensure coverage of kaupapa Māori is done responsibly, under Treaty partnership. I think that’s pivotal, positive progress, and I’m all for Māori journalists stepping into mainstream spaces to bring about similar changes.
We’re all working towards the same goals. To bring some balance. To ensure that our voices and our people are treated with dignity. And to see that our views are respected and not compromised in any way.
Your DNA test got a lot of attention around the world. You came across then as a super Māori, because the common assumption has been that there are no longer any full-blooded Māori.
Yeah, that drew a mixed reaction. But the main insight for me was that none of these measures can ever show that I, or anyone else, is better than other Māori.
Proficiency in te reo doesn’t make me superior to anyone else as a Māori. Nor does a moko kauwae. Or my genes.
What makes me Māori is that, at my marae, I can go to the kitchen or the paepae and do my thing. Manaakitanga, kotahitanga, whanaungatanga — all those values are what make me Māori. It’s all-encompassing. My wairua is Māori, my whakaaro are Māori, my reo is Māori.
But the DNA test felt like a win, not for me, but for everyone else looking in. To this day, people still argue that full-blooded Māori no longer exist, that it was ended by intermarriage and we should all acknowledge our Pākehā whakapapa.
Then my name will pop up to prove the point that, well, on the contrary, here’s someone who tested 98 point something percent Māori. And that just demolishes that old argument.
If other Māori feel empowered by my DNA test proving, or not proving, that I’m 100 per cent Māori, then I’m all for it. But it’s not something that I think about.
I haven’t got any superpowers. It hasn’t given me anything. I’m not richer or better off for it. And that’s because I’ve had a humble upbringing. And, you know, I am still very much one of 167 or so members of my direct whānau line who all share the same tīpuna.
Have you got anything that you really enjoy doing outside of mahi?
Sleeping and eating. It’s true. With this pandemic, these last three years, just enjoying the simplicity of life.
In our industry, it’s a grind. News never sleeps. Striving to move mountains takes a lot of strength, brain power, resilience, and faith. There are responsibilities and burdens. There are also a lot of triumphs and amazing moments. It all requires high energy, high performance, and little to no time for self-care.
So, for me, I’m just appreciating the small things in life, like spending time with whānau and catching up with my “day-ones” when I can. It’s really important to me. It keeps my wairua in check, and keeps me grounded and connected to what matters most in my life.
Right now, the focus is on whānau, because we’ve lost so many. My mum died in November, and my sister Michelle a few weeks before that. So, it’s been a challenge these last six months, but I know I’ve got to keep on keeping on. They wouldn’t want it any other way.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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