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Kohanga reo — ‘it’s a beautiful kaupapa’

Kōhanga reo is the seed that grew all the kaupapa Māori we see in our day-to-day lives, says Alana Irwin of Te Whakaruruhau Kohanga Reo as the kaupapa celebrates its 40-year anniversary.

In early April, Kōhanga Reo National Trust marked the anniversary with a dawn karakia and flag-raising ceremony at Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt.

Since then kōhanga reo (language nests) across the motu (country) have taken time to celebrate the milestone.

Here in Gisborne, Te Whakaruruhau Kōhanga Reo in Tyndall Road was visited yesterday by East Coast MP Kiri Allan to help celebrate the anniversary.

Te Whakaruruhau Kōhanga Reo was started in 1982, and officially established in April the following year.

Te Whakaruruhau has five full-time staff. Braidie Keelan is the only kaiako fully qualified with the Tohu Whakapakari, the kōhanga reo qualification. Another is halfway through their training. The other three will start training in the new year.

Alana Irwin is the administrator at Te Whakaruruhau. In October she will have worked there for 16 years. Her daughter, now 24, was put into the kōhanga at 9 months old and that is where Mrs Irwin's relationship with the kaupapa began.

“My mother, Maraea Irwin, was a pioneer of the movement (but) she was one of many,” Ms Irwin said.

“Some of those who pioneered the movement are still around today. Even those who helped with Te Whakaruruhau — Ned and Marianne Wharehinga, Selwyn Parata, Mere and Godfrey Pohatu — they still keep in contact with us.”

Two important pou of Te Whakaruruhau were Nanny Waina Wibrow and Nanny Mini Keelan.

Nanny Waina worked for the kaupapa for over 20 years and Nanny Mini served 15 years as a qualified kaiako.

Even though Minister Allan visited the kōhanga yesterday, the real celebration for Te Ara Hou will be in September.

“Each purapura (cluster) in Tairāwhiti will come together and celebrate in their own way. Our purapura is Te Ara Hou. It includes Te Whakaruruhau Kōhanga Reo, Kimihia Te Kupu Te Kōhanga Reo and Te Tihi O Titirangi Te Kōhanga Reo which are all in Kaiti,” Miss Irwin said.

The celebrations will be in each of the seven purapura in Tairāwhiti because of Covid-19.

“Otherwise it would have been a region-wide celebration which would have been massive,” she said.

Miss Irwin does not speak fluent te reo Māori but that doesn't stop her from having a huge passion for the kaupapa.

“I will probably work there for the rest of myKlife. I have always been passionate about it.

“I feel blessed. At Te Whakaruruhau we feel so fortunate to work in this kaupapa. We don't see this as a job, we see this as part of our lives.

“It's a beautiful kaupapa. It's empowering. Where our reo was at in the 1980s, it was about to be lost. But thanks to kōhanga reo, we are where we are today.”

There is a dream though — a dream for a kura kaupapa Māori to open up right next to the kohanga reo.

“There is no official movement yet, but it's a dream we had last year with Harata Gibson. We have the capacity to grow. We have big empty paddocks around the kōhanga that are owned by Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou,” Miss Irwin said.

AROHA: East Coast MP Kiri Allan visited Te Whakaruruhau Kōhanga Reo yesterday and is pictured with Opua Kohunui-Williams and Ruby Seymour on her knee. Back, from left, are kōkā Aimee Alatipi, Kōkā Katarina Irwin with Aio Keelan, Kōkā Abigail Ogilvy with Xayah Waikari, Kymani Maurirere-Bishop, Jhai Trueman, Airini Berry and Te Arai Kohu Keelan, Wikitoria Irwin, Leela Niania, Kōkā Braidie Keelan (sitting) Kōkā Caitlin Campbell and Waipuna-a-Rangi Alatipi. Picture by Liam Clayton