We’ll strengthen it together

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10 September 2019

Housing New Zealand has launched a kaupapa Māori language line in its Customer Service Centre (CSC) as part of efforts to contribute to the continued strengthening of Te Reo Māori.

Being able to korero in te reo Māori is part of Mary’s ahurea tuakiri – her cultural identity.

With her whānau hailing from Waikato-Tainui, Maniapoto and Tairāwhiti, te reo was a big part of her upbringing.

Her Nan, now 98, taught Mary and her family different dialects that to this day mean she can quickly establish where someone is from, simply by speaking with them in te reo.

“I’m really passionate about our te reo, and being able to share it with anyone and everyone who’s interested,” she says.

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that Mary is excited to be the person behind the Housing New Zealand Customer Service Centre’s new kaupapa Māori line, which has now launched as part of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori celebrations.

Anyone calling HNZ’s Customer Service Centre on 0800 801 601 can now ask to have their conversation in Te Reo Māori, and they will be put through to Mary.

“When agencies set up a language line for their customers, this is ordinarily to meet an existing demand,” says HNZ National Customer Support Manager Julia Campbell.

“That’s not the case here. We’re hoping that by setting up our Te Reo Māori service, we’ll help create that demand, encourage our te reo-speaking customers to use it and help the language continue to flourish.”

Julia said the idea for HNZ to create the service came out of a similar language line offered in Samoan – the language most requested by people phoning the call centre.

“From that, I thought it was important to acknowledge one of our official languages in New Zealand, Māori, and offer this as a service.

“It was important to me because it helps to give te reo life and therefore tangible meaning. It shows a commitment to our obligations to Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi as a state organisation, and it supports the resurgence of te reo in Aotearoa.”

Julia says “we have come a long way as a country” since the 1980s, where call centre operator Naida Glavish – who would later become President of the Māori Party – was threatened with dismissal for answering a call by saying “kia ora”.

However, more could always be done, and the Māori language line contributed to the theory that “to keep a language alive you must use it”, Julia says.

“We only have one fluent Māori speaker in our CSC, but one person can make a significant difference – as Naida has shown.”

Mary’s hope for the service is that it contributes to the widespread efforts across Aotearoa to strengthen the use of te reo, and the Kiwi identity along with it. She has already noticed how powerful the language can be when speaking with customers – be they Māori or tauiwi.

“The conversation softens because they know they’re speaking to their own, they’re speaking with someone in Aotearoa. What’s important for me with our Māori line is the availability, the control of the kohanga reo and just having that conversation and delivering what we need to deliver.”

Using the language has also helped forge bonds with her colleagues, Mary said. Te Reo Māori is one of many languages used among people from a diverse range of cultures and ethnicities in the CSC, and sharing their language and way of life contributes to one of Housing New Zealand’s key values of kotahitanga – an organisation that works together in an environment of trust, care, contribution, humility and learning.

“Other people within our Housing New Zealand whanau, we’ll strengthen it together. Like I say to the people on the floor here with me – you don’t have to be Māori to learn to speak Māori.

“If it’s in your heart, learn it, come back and share it.”

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