Te Petihana, the petition, calling for the Māori language to be taught in schools, was delivered to parliament on September 14th 1972.
Fifty years later, at dawn on September 14th a large group gathers outside the National Library for the opening of ‘Toku reo, tōku ohooho’ the 50th anniversary exhibition of Te Petihana Māori. The cold air which has seeped beneath jackets and scarfs is quickly displaced by warmth as the first karanga from Te Ati Awa beckons, and the people move forward as one.
Amongst those gathered are members of the courageous student bodies which were crucial to the revival of Te Reo Māori. Ngā Tamatoa from Auckland University and Te Reo Māori Society which formed at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University.
The exhibition showcases a collection of photographs and a curving glass unit that displays the petition itself. As faces, places, and signatures are identified emotions and voices rise to fill the tiny space. It is lovely, heart-warming, and quite exciting for the younger ones present.
Back in the foyer, words are spoken, waiata are sung, breakfast is nibbled and there is whanaungatanga (kinship and connection), an atmosphere of joy amongst those who have perhaps not been together for a long time, who did something together, something important, meaningful, and tika (correct).
A national commemorative event was held later, at noon on the parliamentary forecourt to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Māori language petition. The event was in recognition of these people and others, whose hard work and fortitude bought the issue of catastrophic Māori language decline into the light. Their endeavours inspired others to join with them and gave momentum to the Māori language movement.
As noon approaches the crowd at parliament forms quickly. There are many children here, tamaiti nohinohi (little ones) through to senior college students. Parents, grandparents, teachers, government employees and other workers from around the city. Our feet walk gently across fresh green lawns, little children play happily on the newly rebuilt playground, encouraging words are spoken and stories are shared, there is some laughter. At 12 noon there is an unplanned silent pause, quickly followed by song.
This Māori language moment belongs to the harmony of the many singing ‘Nga iwi e’. A well-known rallying song written by the late Dr Hirini Melbourne who was, fittingly, a member of Ngā Tamatoa.