Jeremy Tātere MacLeod was born in Australia but came to Aotearoa, aged 17, to connect with his roots and learn te reo. Pictured at the 2019 Ngā Tohu Reo awards accepting the iwi award on behalf of Ngāti Kahungunu. (Photo supplied)

Siena Yates, who’s at the starting line of her reo journey, has been getting some inspiration from some of the winners of last year’s Ngā Tohu Reo awards run by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission). 

Here she is (in both reo Pākehā and reo Māori) talking to Jeremy MacLeod, who’s leading the revival of the reo for Ngāti Kahungunu, which won the iwi award. 


When I see someone has won a reo Māori award, I assume they’ve spoken the language all their lives and grown up in a home full of fluent speakers.

Therefore it’s easy to feel wildly inadequate when I, a grown Māori woman with the bare basics, have to call them and talk to them about the one thing I feel most insecure about.

But what I’ve learned from doing these interviews is that’s often not the case, and the only person who makes me feel like an egg is me. 

I’ve also learned not to make assumptions about anyone’s reo story.

Take Jeremy MacLeod, who’s the director of the reo revitalisation strategy for Ngāti Kahungunu, which won a reo Māori award last year for that effort. It’s his job to make sure that, by 2027, Kahungunu reo will be “the preferred means of communication” for the majority of the iwi.

On top of that, he also chairs two kōhanga reo — one of which is run out of his home — and works as a language consultant. And he’s close to completing his PhD, which is on “determining a dialect for Ngāti Kahungunu: its history, development and future.”

So, of course, I expected to be talking to someone who’d been born into a Māori-speaking whānau and come up through kōhanga and kura. 

But, nope. 

Jeremy was born in Brisbane, and grew up detached from his Māori roots. His parents, Kenneth and Ruma MacLeod, moved to Australia in the late 1970s, and, although both had Māori whakapapa, they’d pretty much lost track of it. 

“My father was very disconnected from his Māori roots. His mother died when he was seven, and his father was Pākehā. They weren’t raised at their marae in Rotorua. My mother was probably the same — disconnected from her Māori heritage. She was just part of those three generations of loss. They had very, very little knowledge of the language and customs.”

So there wasn’t a lot of exposure to Māori culture for Jeremy and his sisters, apart from videotapes of kapa haka concerts and competitions — and “occasionally we might get a Māori shirt or tablecloth,” he laughs.

But that lack of cultural nurturing didn’t stop Jeremy from yearning for “some sort of cultural identity”. 

“I was always interested in whakapapa and genealogy and I started researching that at a very young age, and writing to family members here in New Zealand. But my desire just continued to grow, and I wanted to learn the language. I figured that if I learned the language, then I could fully and proudly identify as being Māori.”

And that’s exactly what he did. When he was 17, he moved to New Zealand to live with his now late grandmother, Ruma McDonald, in Hastings.

He still remembers the exact dates because “they were turning points in my life”. He arrived on January 28, 2004, and began his language journey on February 16 through the Eastern Institute of Technology in Hawke’s Bay. 

I imagine that setting out on a reo-Māori journey when your starting point is so far removed from the culture would be bloody terrifying. I’m 30, and living at home with plenty of support, yet I’m struggling to take the first steps. 

For Jeremy, it came down to two things. Sheer determination and the guidance of his tūpuna. He’s always been “intrigued” (meaning “mildly obsessed” — his words, not mine) by his ancestors. He collected so many photos of them that his house looked like a museum.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I have photos of dead people everywhere because I believe that they live as long as they’re still hanging on a wall and people are talking about them. You know, there’s that famous saying that your second death is when people stop talking about you. I believe that was a driver.”

So he came to Aotearoa, and he researched and he learned. If it was me, I’d have stayed home and done some googling, but that was never going to satisfy Jeremy’s thirst for connection. 

Once here, he admits that his personality meant that he was driven to fit in as soon as he could. “They call it the trait of a chameleon — I’m someone who will try and fit in as soon as possible. Learn the idiosyncrasies of the people that I’m around, learn the accent, try and ditch the Australian accent as fast as I can, and just learn the language. Learn that language as fast as I can. 

“I think I was just young, driven. I was able to study full-time for four years straight, I had great teachers, and I wanted to master that language.”

And here he is. Surrounded by the reo and the culture he’d yearned for. 

Jeremy with Te Rina and their sons Te Uaki Wainohu-Waho (11) and Te Maurutanga Wainohu (6). (Photo supplied)

Setting up a kōhanga reo at home was his wife Te Rina’s idea. At the time, Jeremy didn’t have a lot of patience with children — that came later, after they had their boys, Te Uaki and Te Maurutanga. But now he loves the fact that their home is a language nest.

If Jeremy ever wins Lotto, his dream is to buy up a bunch of properties in a cul-de-sac and make it an entirely Māori-speaking community.

“I think we need papakāinga. We need to re-establish communities where the language is used in homes and there’s a support network. We want the language to be caught, not taught. We want a living language, not a textbook language, so my whole dream is to reinstate intergenerational transmission where parents use the language to raise their children.”

I asked Jeremy what he thought life would’ve been like if he hadn’t come to New Zealand to learn the reo. His first answer was the only one that mattered: “I don’t think I would have been happy. I’m so content now. 

“I think had I stayed in Australia, I wouldn’t have been happy and my heart would’ve yearned to be here, in a place where I could stand on the land and know that I had a right to be there and that my ancestors walked that land.”

Jeremy MacLeod is the director of the revitalisation strategy for Ngāti Kahungunu, which won the Iwi award, sponsored by Te Mātāwai, at the 2019 Ngā Tohu Reo Awards. 

This series was made possible with funding from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.

Siena Yates (Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri, and Ngāti Kuri) is a journalist who was born in Morrinsville and grew up Hamilton before moving to Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty. She now lives in Auckland. Siena has been a reporter for Stuff and was the New Zealand Herald’s deputy entertainment editor until January 2020.

. . .

Te Kōingo ki te Reo

E whai nei a Siena Yates, kātahi anō ka tīmata i tana takahi i te ara o te reo, i ētahi o ngā toa i Ngā Tohu Reo e whakahaerehia ana e Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori hei whakaawe i a ia.

 E whai ake nei tāna kōrero ki a Jeremy Tātere MacLeod, ko ia nei te kaikōkiri i te whakarauoratanga o te reo o Ngāti Kahungunu, i whakawhiwhia rā ki te tohu toa mō ngā iwi.

Ka kite ana au, kua whakawhiwhia a wai rānei ki tētahi tohu toa mō te reo Māori, ka pēnei au kua kōrero ia i ngā rā katoa o tōna ao, ā, kua pakeke mai hoki ia i tētahi kāinga kei reira te mahi a te kaikōrero matatau.

Nō reira, ka tere te rangona o te kūware i tāku, i tā tētahi wahine Māori, he iti rawa atu nei tana mōhio, waeatanga atu ki a ia ki te kōrero mō taua mea kotahi e wehi katoa nei au. Engari ko te mea kua mau i a au i ēnei uiui, kāore noa iho he take kia pērā aku whakaaro, ka mutu ko au kē kei te whiu i a au anō ki te kūware.

Kua ako hoki au kia kaua e pōhēhē ki tā wai rānei takahi i tana huarahi o te reo.

Kia tahuri ki a Jeremy Tātere MacLeod, ko ia nei te pouarataki i te rautaki whakarauora i te reo o Ngāti Kahungunu, i toa rā i tētahi tohu reo Māori i tērā tau mō taua mahi. Kei a ia te mahi e noho ai te reo “hei reo whakawhitiwhiti matua” mō te nuinga o Ngāti Kahungunu i mua i te tau 2027.

I tua atu i tērā, ko ia hoki te toihau o ngā kōhanga reo e rua – kei tōna kāinga tonu tētahi e tū ana – ā, he mātanga reo hoki ia. Waihoki kua tata oti i a ia tana tohu kairangi e pā nei ki “te whakatau i te tūreo o Ngāti Kahungunu: tōna hītori, tōna whanaketanga me tōna ahunga whakamua.”

Nō reira, i pēnei tonu au ka kōrero au ki tērā i puta mai rā ki tētahi whānau kōrero Māori, ā, kua pakeke mai i te kōhanga me te kura.

Tēnā pōhēhē, āe.

I whānau mai a Jeremy ki Piripane, ā, kua tāwekoweko ōna herenga ki tōna Māoritanga i tōna pakeketanga mai. I hūnuku ōna mātua, a Kenneth rāua ko Ruma MacLeod, ki Ahitereiria i ngā tau whakamutunga o te tekau tau 1970, ā, ahakoa ō rāua whakapapa Māori, kua kore i tino arohia e rāua.

“Kua tino motu te here o taku pāpā ki tōna Māoritanga. E whitu ōna tau, ka mate nei tana māmā, ka mutu he Pākehā tōna pāpā. Kāore rātou i pakeke mai i tō rātou marae i Rotorua. Tērā tonu pea i pērā anō te āhua ki taku māmā — kua motu te here ki tōna Māoritanga. Ko ia tētahi o ngā uri o ngā whakatipuranga wairuatoa e toru. He iti rawa atu nei ō rāua mōhiotanga ki te reo me ngā tikanga.”

Nō reira, kāore a Jeremy me ōna tuāhine i tino whai wāhi ki te ao Māori, hāunga ia te mātakitaki i ngā rīpene ataata o ngā konohete me ngā whakataetae kapa haka — ā, “i ōna wā ka whiwhi i tētahi hāte Māori, i tētahi uhi tēpu Māori rānei,” tana katakata.

Heoi anō, ehara i te mea nā te korenga ōna i poipoia i te ahurea i mutu ai tana kōingo ki “tētahi punua tuakiritanga Māori”.

“Mai rā anō taku ngākaunui ki te whakapapa, me te aha ka tīmata taku rangahau i tērā kaupapa i a au e tamariki tonu ana, ā, ka tuhi au ki aku whanaunga i Aotearoa nei. Engari ka tipu tonu taku hiahia, ka piringi hoki au ki te ako i te reo. I mahara au, ki te ako au i te reo, kātahi au ka kaha ki te āta whāki, ki te āta whakaū hoki i tōku tuakiritanga Māori.”

Otiia koirā tonu tāna i mahi rā. Nōna e 17 tau ana, ka hūnuku mai ia ki Aotearoa, ka noho ai i te taha o tana kuia, kua riro nei, o Ruma McDonald, i Heretaunga.

E maumahara pū tonu ana ia ki ngā rā nā te mea “koirā ngā wā i huri ai taku ao”. I tau mai ia i a Hanuere, te 28 o te tau 2004, ā, ka tīmata tana takahi i te huarahi o te reo i a Pēpuere, te 16 o taua tau i Te Aho a Māui, kei Te Matau a Māui.

Kāore e kore, ko te tīmata i te takahi i te huarahi o te reo Māori ki tētahi wāhi e pērā rawa ana te tawhiti i te ahurea te mutunga kē mai o te whakamataku. Kua 30 tau taku pakeke, ka mutu kei te kāinga au e karapotia ana e te hunga tautoko engari inā te uaua ki a au o te tīmata i tāku anō hīkoi.

E rua ngā take matua ki a Jeremy. Ko te hihiri mārika me te ārahitanga ōna e ōna tīpuna. Mai rā anō tana”whakaaro nui”(otiia tana “āhua koromaki” — nāna tonu aua kupu, ehara i a au) ki ōna tīpuna. I pērā rawa te maha o ngā whakaahua i kohia rā e ia, he pēnei tonu tōna kāinga i te whare pupuri taonga.

“Ko te hunga e mōhio mai ana ki a au e mōhio ana hoki ki te ponitakatia ōku e ngā whakaahua o te hunga mate, he whakapono nōku ka ora tonu rātau i a rātau e whakairingia tonungia ana ki ngā pātū, e kōrerongia ana hoki e te hunga ora.  Kei te mōhio hoki tāua ki taua kōrero rongonui e mea ana, ka mate tuarua te tangata ā tōna wā ka mutu te kōrerongia ōna. Ki a au nei, he take tērā e āki ana i a au.”

Nō reira, ka rere mai ia ki Aotearoa, ka rangahau, ka ako. Mēnā ko au, kua noho noa iho au i te kāinga ki te whai i te kūkara, engari kāore rawa te kōingo o Jeremy ki ōna hononga e ea i tērā.

I tōna taenga mai, e whakaae ana ia nā tōna āhua i wawe tonu ai tana whai taunga ki hea rānei. “E kīia ana ko te āhua tērā nō te mokotaurangi — ko au nei tētahi ka whai kia tere tonu taku whai taunga ki tētahi ao. Ko te ako tērā i ngā momo whanonga o te hunga kei ōku taha, ko te ako i te tangi o te reo, ko te whakarere atu i te tangi o te reo Ahitereiria, ko te ako tonu hoki i te reo. Kia tere tonu te mau o taua reo i a au.

“He tamariki, he hiahia hoki nōku pea i pērā ai. I wātea au ki te ako ukiuki i ngā tau e whā karapīpiti, he rawe aku kaiako, ka mutu i hiahia au kia pūkenga au i taua reo.”

Ko ia tonu tēnei. E karapotia ana e te reo me te ahurea i kōingotia rā e ia.

Nō tana wahine, nō Te Rina, te whakaaro kia whakatūria he kōhanga reo ki tō rāua kāinga. I taua wā rā, kāore i pērā rawa te manawanui o Jeremy ki te tamariki — nō muri mai tērā, nō te whānautanga mai o ā rāua tama, o Te Uaki rāua ko Te Maurutanga. Heoi, ināianei e koa katoa ana ia he kōhanga reo tō rāua kāinga.

Ki te riro i a ia te Lotto, ko te wawata o Jeremy he hoko i te hia nei kōpure whenua i tētahi ara-ānau-kati, ka whakaritea ai a reira hei wāhi kōrero Māori anake.

“Ki a au nei, me whakarite papa-kāinga mātau. Me whakatū anō e mātau he hapori e whakamahia ai te reo i ngā kāinga, ka mutu he hunga tautoko kei reira. Kai te piringi mātau kia kaua te reo hai ākona engari kia mau noa. Kai te piringi mātau ki te reo whakawhiti kōrero, kaua ki te reo i ahu mai i te pukapuka, nō reira ko taku wawata nui, ko te whakaū anō i te tukuihotanga e whakamahi ai ngā mātua i te reo hai whakapakeke i ā rātau tamariki.”

I tono au i ngā whakaaro o Jeremy ki tōna ao mēnā kāore ia i hūnuku mai ki Aotearoa ki te ako i te reo. Ko tana whakautu tuatahi te mea i whai take nui katoa: “Kua kore pea au e koa. Kua tau katoa taku mauri ināianei.

“E whakapae ana au, mēnā au i noho tonu ki Ahitereiria, kua kore au e koa, kua kōingo hoki tōku ngākau ki te whenua nei, ki tētahi wāhi e tū ai au i runga i te whenua me te mōhio tonu ki tōku anō tūranga-waewae, ka mutu ko taua whenua rā te takahanga waewae o ōku tīpuna.”

Ko Jeremy Tātere MacLeod te pouarataki o te rautaki whakarauora i te reo o Ngāti Kahungunu i whakawhiwhia rā ki te tohu toa mō ngā iwi, e tautokona nei e Te Mātāwai, i te hui o Ngā Tohu Reo Māori 2019 a Te Taura Whiri.

Nā te pūtea a Te Taura Whiri i puta ai tēnei terenga.

Ko Siena Yates (nō Te Rarawa, nō Te Aupōuri me Ngāti Kurī) tētahi kaikawe pūrongo i whānau mai rā i Mōrenawhira, i pakeke mai rā hoki i Kirikiriroa i mua i tana hūnukutanga atu ki Te Puke, kei Te Moana a Toi. Kei Tāmaki-makaurau ia e noho ana ināianei. He kaikawe pūrongo a Siena mā Stuff, ā, ko ia hoki te etita tuarua mō ngā take whakangahau i te Hērora o Aotearoa tae noa ki a Hanuere o te tau 2020.

© E-Tangata, 2020

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