HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Research and language preservation on agenda for visiting Professor
Professor Tania Ka’ai from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) is back in the Cook Islands preparing the future researchers of the Cook Islands.
Ka’ai is Chair of AUT’s postgraduate program, as well as the Programme Director of Te Ipukarea and the International Centre for Language Revitalisation (ICLR). Ka’ai will spend a total of four weeks in the Cook Islands, three of which will be spent teaching two papers at the local University of the South Pacific (USP) campus. The courses are focused on research methods and she says are “based on trying to build research capacity amongst Cook Island people.” Although she taught the same paper here last year, this year she is also teaching a more advanced class with the aim of getting students to complete their research proposals and go on to enroll in their Masters in Philosophy – and eventually their PHD – with AUT.
Te Ipukarea is New Zealand’s National Maori Language Institute and is based within AUT. Ka’ai has done extensive work in the field of indigenous languages and her work for Te Ipukarea has led to the establishment of an international arm of the institute, called The International Centre for Language Revitalisation (ICLR). “Over 25 years [in New Zealand] we have Kohanga Reo, we have Kura Kaupapa Maori, we have an education system that runs parallel for immersion teaching. Against that backdrop of the cultural revolution, in a way – of Ta Moko, music, Maori instruments that are traditional that have been revitalized – being involved in that program for such a long time we’ve taken that overseas and the quality of our work is being recognized overseas.”
ICLR now works with indigenous peoples across the globe to assist them in revitalizing their languages. Their pilot programme involves work with the Salish people of Northern Montana, communities from Hawaii, New Zealand and even Yiddish, which according to Ka’ai is now seen as an endangered language. “We have developed an online language learning system, which can be customized to any language in the world. It’s called Reo Online Systems.” Ka’ai will be holding a presentation about Reo Online Systems on Thursday 11 April at USP and she says that whilst the presentation will be aimed at schoolteachers, all members of the public are welcome to attend. Ka’ai was invited to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) last year to launch ICLR. “The New Zealand Mission to the United Nations sponsored our side event at UNPFII. We’ve been invited back again this year and we’ll be presenting to the UN again on 17 May because of the interest amongst indigenous peoples all over the world. We engaged in supporting people to share our resources – our knowledge and experience. They look to us and Maori in Aotearoa because of us building capacity over 30 years. So we want to share our knowledge with anyone who wants that.”
While she is here, Ka’ai has also been working with USP and the Mangaian community to develop an online language resource cataloguing the Mangaian languge. Ka’ai has been working closely with Tania Smith, the researcher for the project. Smith has transcribed close to 18,000 index cards recording the Mangaian language that came from Douglas Marshall, an anthropologist who visited the Cook Islands in the 1950’s. “These index cards were wrapped in Glad Wrap, so we were able to take them, digitise them and then give them back to the community.” Ka’ai says it is the Mangaian community who are authenticating the index cards. “They are the body that really says yes or no. Some of the words that they have discovered have been lost. They’re rediscovering new forms of language. One, for example, is ‘the smell of the rain’... So there is a word now – a word that has been lost and reclaimed through this work on the dictionary.”
Ka’ai, whose Grandparents hail from the Northern Cook Islands, says she feels that she is here to contribute her skills to help people “at home” in the Cook Islands. “It’s about empowering communities through the resources that we have. Not keeping them – like many academics have done in the past! We have a different view of things. We’re indigenous, [so] we like to work with communities to help them create new ways of reclaiming their knowledge for themselves.”
Ka’ai’s introductory classes are held at USP on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and the advanced classes are held on Tuesdays. “It’s fantastic – we have opportunities for more enrolments so please contact the wonderful women at USP for enrolment.”

-By Ngariki Ngatae

Herald Issue 608 21 March
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