15 September 2023

Staff record prison population in te reo Māori

Christchurch Women’s Prison has marked a historic moment by calling a headcount in te reo Māori, the first time it has been done.

Senior Corrections Officer Lance Rollo, with support from Pou Tikanga Mairehe Louise Tankersley, called out to staff over the radio to do a headcount within the prison, but requested it fully in te reo Māori. Staff were then encouraged to respond back in te reo Māori with their counts.

“It was just beautiful,” says Whaea Louise. “It made my heart soar to see and hear that in te reo Māori.”

The moment – 12pm on September 14 - represents the very moment the Māori Language Petition was presented to Parliament in 1972, on the first Māori Language Day.

“It was a significant point in history for the reclamation of te reo Māori and people all over the country had planned to kōrero (speak) or waiata (sing). One of our staff came up with the idea that doing a random muster in te reo Māori would be a great opportunity to get all staff involved and integrate the language into our work.”

While the musters are usually done in English, Whaea Louise says managing it in te Reo Māori was a “huge achievement” for the prison.

“A lot of people were very nervous,” says Whaea Louise, “very worried about how they would sound but we’ve been encouraging everybody just to have a go. They’ve all been practicing and I’m so proud of how much effort staff put into the moment.”

Lance was grateful to have Whaea Louise at his side when he made the call for the muster over the radios.

“I’m not going to lie - today’s experience was very daunting at first but I did enjoy it once we got going,” he says. “I am the eldest of 5 kids and my mother and I are the only whānau members who don’t speak te reo Māori (quite whakamā about that to be truthful).”

Since working with the Department, he has enjoyed learning more of the language and integrating it into his work.

“I am proud to take a leading role in events like this, not only to get me out of my comfort zone, but also as an opportunity to practice what I’ve learnt.”

Christchurch Women’s Prison has hosted a lot of events for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, including practicing using the language over the radios, says Whaea Louise.

“We sent out posters and fliers with some words and phrases for people to try and use over the radios – confidence with the language has been building and we’re going to continue encouraging the use of te reo Māori in our everyday mahi.”

A high percentage of women in the prison are Māori, says Whaea Louise, which adds to the responsibility under Te Tiriti (the Treaty) and the commitments the Department has made under Hōkai Rangi, to work towards better outcomes for Māori in prison, which includes normalising the use of te reo Māori.

“It’s something that’s really difficult for a lot of people, but staff here were willing to give it a go, which was amazing, and I feel super proud of our staff at Christchurch Women’s Prison for carrying that out the muster today.”

The muster was a success, and staff appreciated the support to just “give it a go”.

“We will certainly encourage other prisons to do something similar and support te reo Māori as much as possible and be the change we want to see.”

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