Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Bountiful South: Indigenous language education: beyond revival

Maori and Aboriginal leaders from New Zealand and Taiwan discuss what lessons Taiwan can glean from the Maori’s successful model of language revival

By Liam Gibson  /  Contributing reporter

Kolas says she has seen many examples of six year-old children who have learnt their mother tongue fluently at home only to lose their it within six months of beginning elementary school.

Cribb says that in New Zealand, after the initial batch of Kohanga Reo children reached elementary school age, Maori language education was introduced for all levels of New Zealand’s education system, including tertiary.

Kolas says Taiwan needs to do the same and introduce broader changes in the education system that will keep Aborignal language programs going throughout elementary school.

“Don’t let the schools become the tombs of our languages,” she says.

“They took our languages away,” she adds, recalling how she was punished for speaking her mother tongue as a student. “The time has come to return them.”


Cribb says the Maori have a lot to share with their Taiwanese cousins not only in the way they instill a sense of cultural belonging in their children through the use of their native language, but also in its latent economic potential.

“Our shared language and culture makes us who we are,” Cribb says, “but it can also be a source of economic value. We need to look at how our identity can be partnered to economic value and how it can move us forward.”

The New Zealand government estimates the Maori economy to be worth about US$30 billion and is a major force in the nation’s economy. The media industry especially has diversified and thrived since the revival of the language, with two major Maori TV channels, dozens of radio stations and growing online digital content.

Kolas, who used to work as a reporter for Taiwan Indigenous Television, says the media industry is a good place for Taiwan to start because Aboriginal-language content has more than just symbolic value, it can also create career pathways for young people to use their mother tongue.

“This will inspire the younger generations to learn as they can see where the language might take them one day,” she says.

The legislator has also put forward a proposal to partner Aboriginal children with elderly care centers, effectively coupling two of the current government’s initiatives, the Aboriginal Language Development act and long-term care services program. This move will not only raise efficiency, but also cut costs through combining budgets.

Right now, the CIP and the Ministry of Health and Welfare are discussing the creation of a new platform on which to base the proposal.

New Zealand’s revival of Maori has been a breakthrough success in no small part because it made the language applicable in the broader economy. If Taiwan hopes to mirror this model, language revival must not be the end in and of itself. Instead this program must act as a catalyst for broader changes that not only bring Aboriginal people prosperity and self-determination for their own communities, but also a greater role in contributing to the development of the nation itself.

“In Maori, we say that our language is our life force,” says Cribb.

“That’s exactly what our elders used to tell us,” says Kolas.

Bountiful South is a fortnightly column that covers Taiwan’s new cultural, diplomatic, business and tourism connections with its neighbors in the Indo-Pacific. Liam Gibson is a freelance reporter based in Taipei. He also researches regionalism as a postgraduate student at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development. You can reach him at liamtaipei@gmail.com

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