More than 20 delegates from the Institute of Excellence in the M?ori Language traveled from a South Pacific island to the United States as part of a cultural and language exchange program.
One of the group’s stops was the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
Their journey included visits to Native American tribes in New Mexico and Oklahoma.
The M?ori, (pronounced mah-aw-ree), are indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Their language, culture and protocols where shared with Chickasaws.
Members of the Chickasaw Dance Troupe welcomed them with a traditional Friendship Dance. The M?ori, in turn, greeted the Chickasaw people with song and dance. The M?ori are world renowned for their animated facial gestures, body movements and loud, rhythmic chants.
There are many similarities between Chickasaw and the M?ori. Each has strong marital traditions, uses song and dance to express themselves and have their own cultural identity and traditions.
Both face virtual extinction of language fluency without concerted efforts to identify, educate and teach fluent speakers.
While at the cultural center, the members of the Chickasaw Nation Language Committee were in attendance to share stories, experiences and language revitalization initiatives both share.
“There are all sorts of initiative being undertaken to preserve our language,” Dr. T?moti K?retu of the Institute of Excellence in the M?ori Language said. “There are language schools, immersion schools. All the learning is taught in M?ori. Students start at (age) 5, and go through about 18. There are nearly 500 throughout New Zealand. The state (provides transportation) to those who want to attend. Most of the people here are products of immersions schools.”
The Chickasaw Nation shared its version of language immersion education, including the Chickasaw language master-apprenticeship program and the Chipota Chikashshanompoli (Children Speaking Chickasaw) language club. It meets once a month in Ada and Ardmore, both in Oklahoma.
The master-apprentice program pairs an apprentice with a fluent Chickasaw speaker. They dedicate themselves to teaching and learning the Chickasaw language. Participants of the master-apprentice program explained its success. Dr. K?retu was impressed with the number of full-blooded Native Americans at the cultural center and their involvement with Chickasaw language revitalization.
“I don’t think we have any full-blooded M?ori,” Dr. K?retu said. “But it is not a problem. As long as you have a M?ori (ancestor), you are M?ori. It’s left to the individual to identify with their M?ori or European.”
Like most indigenous people, the M?ori fight to keep their language and traditions alive. The initiatives the M?ori people and New Zealand have undertaken to preserve their heritage are inspiring.
In 1987, M?ori language became an official language in New Zealand. State-sponsored television stations devote programing to M?ori language and tribal issues. There are also numerous radio stations and a national, week-long celebration of M?ori culture. A biannual art and dance competition takes place featuring the best works of the M?ori.
These initiatives are helping keep the language alive. According to a social report from the New Zealand government, almost one-quarter of all M?ori reported in its 2006 Census they could converse in M?ori.
“The M?ori language is in a state of upkeep. It is not growing, but is not shrinking either,” Dr. K?retu said. “The 50s, 60s and 70s were hard. We lost a lot of speakers during that time.”
The Chickasaw Nation mirrors many of these services and continues to expand its language efforts. Web-based television, a tribal newspaper and KCNP Community Radio keep tribal citizens informed. The Chickasaw Nation recently released a language application for smart phones and has a presence on social media outlets.