Gabriel Dumont Institue


New Zealand study trip affirms the importance of language to culture reclamation

Interview with Carson McCaffery by Karon Shmon

Oct 13, 2023

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The following article was originally published in the GDI Communicator Vol. 17 Issue 7, July 2023. The Communicator is a monthly internal newsletter intended to increase communication between management and staff of the Gabriel Dumont Institute. You can find the archive of previous issues in the Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture.

Karon: Carson, you’ve recently travelled abroad as part of your studies. What was the nature of your trip? 

Carson: The two-week trip to New Zealand is part of an Indigenous Studies course at the University of Saskatchewan made possible through the Oyateki Partnership between the Gabriel Dumont Institute, the Mastercard Foundation, the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology, and the University of Saskatchewan.  We were on an educational journey where we had the privilege to observe and learn from the Maori of New Zealand, an Indigenous people colonized by the British. They have done a lot of work to unite, to confront the government about the effects of colonization, and to bring their people out of the resulting hardships. It was very beautiful to see.  I think many of these initiatives should be implemented in Canada. Our group included a diversity of students, one from biology, two from business, and three from education, including my SUNTEP classmate, Kaitryn LaPrise-Fisher. Each of us experienced something to bring back to our field of study. For example, we stayed at the Maori full immersion schools. As a prospective teacher, this really stood out to me because it placed the importance language plays in grounding an Indigenous person in their culture. I thought it was very cool to see the young students speaking Teo Reo Maori, the language of the Maori, and the way it grounds and solidifies their cultural identity.   

K: So, with the purpose of the trip being to broaden the knowledge and experience of other Indigenous peoples, did you make any correlations between the colonization that the Maori experienced and the experiences of Indigenous peoples here in Canada? 

C: Yes, for sure. The Maori are less diverse than the Indigenous peoples here, but there are similarities, and they follow very similar customs. Each Iwi, the term for the tribes there, all have the same ancestral language. In Canada, many different nations make up the Indigenous peoples which creates some distance between us because we don’t look at one another as one group. We are unique and diverse because we have different languages, customs, and histories, even though we share that we are indigenous to these lands and share the common experience of colonization. 

K: Do you think the geography of New Zealand has helped the Maori survive as one nation?  

C: Yes. Keep in mind New Zealand is a very small country consisting of two islands. This provided more opportunities for the Iwis to interact with one another and to maintain a common language. You can tell they are closer knit as a result.  

K: How much time did you spend on Iwis?  

C: We spent about a week with the Maori people, about three days were spent on the Marae. A Marae is like a reserve, or land set aside. One thing that I noticed that was really prominent was the idea of reinvesting back into your people. The Maoris are doing so through economic development, a change from the time when they were placed on maraes that didn’t have any natural resources because they were given the worst land.  

K: Sounds like Canada. 

C: Yes, it’s very similar. The land wasn’t suitable for farming and was without natural resources. The Maoris chose to see their people as their most valuable resource, so they work to build capacity in human resources.  

K: What are some of your cherished memories from the trip? 

C: One of the most memorable moments was the warm welcome and greeting we experienced when we arrived at a marae and received a haka, which is an introduction and traditional dance. Historically hakas were used to face an enemy, but it has now become a welcoming to showcase traditional culture. I was also impressed with the small town of Rotorua, a cultural hub for the Maori people. You can see it in the street signs, everything is bilingual in English and Te Reo Maori. This helps visitors see just how much the city is immersed in Maori culture. It’s very beautiful! 

K: So, what is your takeaway from the trip? 

C: My takeaway from the trip is the importance of Indigenous language and how its grounds people to their culture. I am saddened to see that Indigenous languages here have nearly been eradicated. I look at my people’s language, Michif, the language of the Métis. It’s very disheartening to see so few speakers left in Canada. A similar thing happened with the Maori. Their Indigenous language was almost eradicated, but there were a few elders who retained it. The Maori worked with the government of New Zealand to create classes and workshops where they can teach the language. After a lot of work, full immersion schools followed. When students learn in their first language it grounds them in their culture and helps them feel more connected, and to have a closer bond as a community. I believe Michif can have the same impact and I would like to see it offered in Canadian schools.  

 K: I couldn’t agree more! How will this experience shape your career as a teacher? 

C: I came to understand how important it is for the Indigenous students to be grounded in their own language. I will never be the teacher who helps eradicate a student’s language. I would rather support and facilitate the students’ discovery of their Indigenous languages.   

K: Is there anything else from the trip you would like to share? 

C: I think Canada can learn a lot from the New Zealand. They have succeeded in showing the British colonizers that the Maori people are a vital part of the country, the original people, and that their culture and heritage must be respected.   

K: that’s awesome. I think that is what we’re striving for here. That’s what needs to happen here. It’s nice to see that most of New Zealand is also on board with that. Maarsii, Carson. 

 Carson McCaffrey is a Métis student completing his Bachelor of Education degree at the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.  

 Karon Shmon is currently the Director of Métis Culture and Heritage at the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research in Saskatoon. 

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