Kaitaia, like a few other northern towns, often cops criticism for its jobless and crime stats, and other signs of failure. But it has its own riches. And they’ve included a wealth of kuia and kaumātua who know their history and have the reo Māori eloquence to tell those stories. Luckily, the local iwi station, Te Hiku o te Ika, has made it its business to record their memories and observations — so that, even as the old people pass on, their language remains for learners to absorb and build into a proud identity.

Here Dale talks with Te Hiku CEO Peter-Lucas Jones, who — as chair of the iwi radio network Whakaruruhau and deputy chair of Māori Television — is playing an increasingly significant role in Māori broadcasting.


Kia ora, Peter. Sometimes you’re known as Peter Lucas and, at other times, you’re Peter Lucas Jones. What’s the story there?

I’m named after an aunty (Joan Lucas) and an uncle (Karena Peter Marsh). That’s where the Peter and the Lucas come from. But my full name is Peter-Lucas Kaaka Jones. The Kaaka comes from Te Aupōuri, from one of my ancestors known as Te Kaaka. And the Jones is from my grandfather who came from the north of Wales, settled in the Far North, and married our grandmother, Raiha Moeroa Anaru.

And you’re the young brother of Shane Jones?

Shane is the eldest in our family. There’s six of us. The order goes: Shane, Munro, Angela, Tuna, Moeroa — and I’m the pōtiki in my generation on both sides of my whānau.

Which means, you’re either spoilt or mischievous. Like, of course, Māui. 

Well, I guess I did get plenty of attention, because I grew up with a lot of older people. But growing up in a little place like Mahimaru meant we had lots of chores. One of them was milking the cow and then taking the billy of milk over to our grandmother Ma Jones, or to our other grandmother, Nana Hazel Paul.

Or over to their cousin, Wiki Popata. He was a blind kaumātua. My eldest niece Keryn and I would go to his place and get his kai ready for him in the mornings. In that respect, I wouldn’t say I was spoilt, but I was blessed with the opportunity to have access to a number of what I refer to as “profound kaumātua” at an early age.

Peter-Lucas with Nana Hazel (centre), his aunt Ellen Anderson (left) and cousin Rose Timu (nee Rameka).

And your iwi links?

Well, my iwi are Ngāi Takoto and Te Aupōuri through my dad, and Ngāti Kahu and Te Rarawa through my mum. Mum, who became a schoolteacher, grew up in Peria in the foothills of Maungataniwha. Then she moved to Awanui, where my father comes from. That’s where she met him and, not long after, they got married in Hato Hōhepa, the Māori Anglican church at Awanui.

They were married in 1959 by Reverend Henare Paraone, who was a renowned Māori preacher and the spiritual leader of the Ngāi Takoto people. After that, Mum and Dad stayed with my father’s mother, Raiha Moeroa Jones, in Awanui, a small Māori settlement where the marae is at its centre. That’s where they were living when Shane was born.

Then, after a little while, my mum and dad purchased our family homestead from our grand-uncle, Sonny Anderson, who was also known as Anaru Anaru. That house was really an extension of the Mahimaru marae. This is where my formative years were spent.

So our home was the heart of a lot of tribal discussions, and my parents spent a lot of time hosting our relations. For instance, my father’s mother lived with us, and her sisters were just across the road and around the way. We had a great many people coming to visit us.

But, growing up on a marae, the biggest impact in those years was how those people impressed on me how important it was to speak Māori — and to speak it properly. To be quite honest, I don’t recall our grandmother ever talking to her sisters in English. They always spoke to one another in Māori. The marae was the centre of their life.

We grew up on a little farm that was Māori land which belonged to our father. Our father’s mother (who was born in 1893) generally stayed with us, so we got to listen to a lot of their kōrero. Her and her sisters and cousins. Nana Hazel raised our father, because she couldn’t have children of her own.

Those kuia were really superstitious and everything meant something. They constantly observed us and the world around them — and they spent hours deliberating over what these signs or tohu meant, especially whether that was to do with the weather and the garden, which they called the mahinga. Not a mara.

Peter-Lucas’s father Munro (Moanaroa) Peter Jones (front) and partner Keoni.

Our father, a farmer, was a very strong man, and a hard worker. He milked cows and we always had pigs and chooks and a very big mahinga where he grew all the vegetables we needed — and we were all expected to help in some way.

We had to chase cows, too. I preferred to ride a horse, if I could, rather than walk to things, but there were always more whānau members than there were horses, so I often had to walk. Dad rode his horse right up into his 80s.

But we had a wonderful upbringing. I hear how children speak to their parents today, and I think to myself: “Goodness, we’d never dare speak to our father with that kind of tone.” But I guess times have changed.

I remember Dad teaching us to plant tupu (kūmara shoots) when we were children. He told us that we must face the roots to the east because that way the roots get warm first thing in the morning. And we’d water them every day. But, to be part of a whānau like that, it was really important to him that we knew how to make a tāpapa and how to pick as well as plant tupu properly.

He knew all about the maramataka, but he never called it the maramataka. He called it the Okoro. That was his favourite time for planting kūmara.

He loved the land, our father. I’d worry about him sometimes, down the back paddock or up the river, and I’d try to teach him how to use the cellphone. I even bought him a cellphone but he said it was a hōhā. Anyway, I could always find him. He’d be fixing a fence or killing a pig or something like that.

Our mum cared for our whānau and father dearly. She, too, had a big influence on our lives and she was a great believer in education. As they got older, my parents both came to live with me and my partner Keoni.

With mum Ruth, at Taipa in 2018.

When they got older, and at times unwell, I cared for them. I’ve had the opportunity to care for a lot of kaumātua in my lifetime. It’s a real blessing to care for kuia and kaumātua because old people are the real teachers. I’m 40 years old, and when I think about all the old people I cared for, they were the people that really gave me an education.

We had a kōhanga reo at Mahimaru marae, and the kaiako were our kuia. Ma Jones, Nana Hazel, Mother Mere Henare, Nana Taha, Aunty Gugu Pivac, Aunty Myra Berghan, and many others. They were all kaikaranga and kuia. That first day, I thought we were going to eat cream buns at the marae, but it was the beginning of kōhanga reo. Charlie Marino was there too.

Pronunciation and intonation— or what they’d refer to as “te whakahua o te reo” and “te rere o te reo” — was very important when we were tamariki. Even though we didn’t go to kura kaupapa, we still had a lot of karakia in the morning and the evening. The kuia taught us how to read Māori from the Māori prayer book.

I just think it was a marvellous experience being able to have those old people put time and energy into you.

Thank you, Peter. It’s lovely kōrero, and thank you for reminding us of the richness of the old people who took you under their wing. Then you went off to school, of course. 

I went to Awanui Primary School and Kaitaia Intermediate. Then Taipa Area School. I also spent some time with whānau in Auckland and Australia for a couple of years, and then I came back and stayed with my brother Shane and his wife, Ngareta. After that, I came back up north again.

I was blessed to have older brothers and sisters, at least three of them old enough to be my parents. And I was very blessed to have them express love and kindness to me. Then I found myself in Wellington with the opportunity to attend Victoria University.

I also went to Te Whare Wānanga o Raukawa because I really enjoyed the opportunity of being there with Māori people, concentrating on kaupapa Māori things. And I graduated with a postgraduate degree in te reo Māori.

I had the opportunity to work for a little while at the Māori Language Commission for Erima Henare who was my relation, and then to be the board secretary at the Kōhanga National Trust. I was also a Treaty Settlement Negotiator for Te Aupōuri. At this time I met my partner Keoni Mahelona. He’s native Hawaiian and a computer engineer.

I spent a lot of time driving kuia and kaumātua to hui and, when I think back, in spite of all the educational opportunities in the mainstream and Pākehā education system, I think that having access to native speakers of te reo Māori is much more beneficial to anybody who wants to immerse themselves in, and promote, te reo Māori.

Peter-Lucas (left), partner Keoni Kealoha Mahelona, and mokopuna Maringikura, at Waitangi.

I’ve often wondered how come this guy from Kaitaia has had such a commitment to te reo Māori and to broadcasting. But now, as you tell your story, it’s all coming together. Of course, Hone Harawira was up there as well and determined that those who call Kaitaia home should not be short-changed in any way when it came to Māori radio — and making it a focal point for our communities. 

You and others have stepped it up. But what would you say of the importance of the local radio station, Te Hiku o Te Ika to the community — Māori predominantly, but not exclusively — in and around the areas that you live?

Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika is one of the 21 iwi radio stations in Aotearoa that are supported by Te Māngai Pāho. But the broadcasting approach of Te Hiku Media is very much focused on protecting the existing native speakers of te reo Māori while growing a new cohort of speakers as well.

It’s important that we support existing speakers of te reo Māori and don’t get caught up in the political tension that sometimes pits the new cohort against the native speakers. Our native speakers of te reo Māori are the last bastions of profound knowledge from te ao Māori. So our Te Hiku o Te Ika approach to broadcasting has a special focus on both of those rōpū.

The station has an amazing role. And you’re capturing these voices, some would say of yesteryear, but we need to grasp them now or forever lose them. You’ve been involved in a major programme of storing that kōrero. 

But also, I understand, you’ve been making some wonderful digital efforts and developing computer systems for storing these priceless taonga, so that we can learn from them in generations to come. What’s been the most satisfying aspect of that work for you, Peter?

Over the last 30 years, Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika has been recording the voices of our kuia and kaumātua talking about a range of different topics, including political issues. And we now have a huge collection of Māori language audio archives.

My own grandmother, Raiha Moeroa Jones, and Nana Hazel (also known as Ehara Paora) are two of our oldest entries. And, when I think about the influence that Hone Harawira had on the Māori broadcasting movement in our rohe, I take my hat off to him for capturing the voices of our native speakers because it now gives us an opportunity to use digital media as a way to decolonise te reo Māori.

This data provides examples of the pronunciation, intonation and rhythms of the native speakers, which can help us to eliminate the New Zealand English accent that permeates modern spoken te reo Māori. Pronunciation of te reo today is heavily influenced by the dominant language, which is Pākehā.

When we look at our archives, we see a treasure trove of phonetical data that we can use to create apps for pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm. People who’ve not had access to te reo Māori as they’ve been growing up often struggle with the sounds we should make when we speak Māori. Having digital access to this resource from native speakers can have an amazing impact on somebody’s language journey.

We know that most Māori don’t have a Māori-language speaker in their home. And most of our people don’t live in our traditional rohe. But through digital access we can touch the hearts and minds of our people and help them pick up proficient Māori language pronunciation.

Not only our own people, either, but tauiwi as well. Although the journey is different for those of us who are Māori by whakapapa because the language and the culture is part of our whānau, hapū and iwi identity.

Peter-Lucas and Tireiniamu Kapa (nee Kaaka) of Te Kao, the patron of Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika (Te Hiku Media). Tireiniamu is in her late 80s and is the last of the original iwi radio trustees.

In our efforts to protect and develop the reo, there’s always been a risk that we “university-ise” the teaching and the learning because it’s our urban people who have access to these institutions. But much of the beauty of the language is in the celebration of our tribal dialects and their style of delivery. Thank you for your inspired efforts. 

Our original kaimahi, Aunty Cissy Midgard, who was our interviewer for Te Haora o Te Reo Māori, lived at Te Rerenga Wairua and was married to the lighthouse keeper there. When the time came for her to spend time doing something else that she was passionate about, she worked for Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika and went around to each of our kāinga and each of our marae and interviewed many of our kuia and kaumātua in the 1990s.

That project has carried on every year since our station started in 1991. We continue today to talk to our people, in te reo Māori, about things that matter to the haukāinga — or we talk to national Māori personalities about national kaupapa Māori issues. But all of that has a focus on those two groups that I mentioned earlier. It’s about protecting the existing speakers of te reo Māori while growing a new cohort of speakers. We also create bilingual content.

Those in our audience are primarily from our haukāinga. But we have many native Māori language speakers living in the city, and perhaps being lonely too. So we’ve thought about how we can connect them to the kāinga. And we now have our own digital platform, tehiku.nz, that was built by my partner Keoni.

And we did that because we wanted to be able to do live broadcasting and live video streaming, not only in Te Tai Tokerau but also to be an example for other Māori people in restoring the mana of Māori leadership back to the haukāinga and the kaitiaki of the marae.

In that way, we concentrate on the marae being the centre of our communities and a place where we can have topical and political discussions and engage in tribal decision-making.

Waitangi Day 2018 broadcast, at Waitangi. Peter-Lucas Jones with Taimania Jones and Oneroa Pihama of Tautoko FM.

Broadcasting from Waitangi in 2018 on Waitangi Day. Peter-Lucas (centre) with Taimania Jones and kaumātua Oneroa Pihema of Tautoko FM.

Thank you for your kōrero about a fascinating development. And, I understand, that you now have the funding for even more progress.

Recently, Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika was awarded $13 million for a multi-language platform to develop the tools and methods to enable us to engage with technology in te reo Māori. But it’s important to reflect on how we got there and acknowledge those who’ve played a part in that journey — the support from the community, from the haukāinga, the support from the kuia and kaumātua.

We’ve already developed the first ever Māori language transcription application, voice to text and text to voice. A first for indigenous languages.

And now we have the opportunity to further revitalise our language, through conversational data captured by our iwi radio. Not staged examples in a book, but real life examples from real people speaking on iwi radio. We shouldn’t underestimate how significant iwi radio has been, and continues to be, in revitalising our reo.

The work that Te Hiku Media does is focused on encouraging people on their Māori language journey through content. Haukāinga-based and led was the dream of our old people. We maintain that approach as a team, te kāhui kaimahi o Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

As well as being CEO of Te Hiku Media, Peter-Lucas Jones is also chair of Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori (The National Iwi Radio Network), and the deputy chair of Māori TV. He’s also a board member of Te Punaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence hosted by the University of Auckland.

© E-Tangata, 2020

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