“Think I might be a litte bit in love with Ruby Tui. Bringing te reo to the BBC. Best Olympic interview yet!”

Black Fern Ruby Tui’s interview about their win in the women’s rugby sevens Olympic semi-final inspired this Facebook comment from a friend in England. The Black Ferns are predominantly Māori women and Ruby began the interview in te reo Māori (the Māori language).

It struck me how familiar we’ve become in New Zealand to hearing te reo Māori on radio and TV. Along with English, it has been our official language since 1987, but it’s faced mountainous opposition.

Yes, Aotearoa suffers the detrimental effects of our colonial history which we both accept and deny — like Isaiah’s foretelling of rain to break the drought, our acceptance “has been slow in coming but it will surely come”!

Now, as we celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in 2021, we have an upsurge of Māori leadership in our society — hence a young, woman athlete spontaneously broadcasting in Māori on the BBC. The indigenous people of Aotearoa are opening us to a deeper, more inclusive world.

From a time te reo was suppressed in schools and wiped out in many whānau (families), now Māori have developed preschool Te Kōhanga Reo — “nests” where little children are immersed in te reo and Māori values.

These days thousands of Māori, and others, have conversational fluency in te reo and many others are learning. A recent survey showed the surprising results that most of the population knew and pronounced well some Māori vocabulary, such is our exposure to the language.

In Aotearoa we owe the place of prayer in public life to Māori. Despite our secularity, everything of importance begins with the appropriate Māori tikanga (rituals) including karakia (prayer).

We may not understand all the words, but like the pre-Vatican II benediction, we resonate with the spiritual significance. Karakia, poetic and full of imagery and metaphor, expresses our kinship within creation. It acknowledges our dependence on the Divine presence sustaining creation and our responsibility of solidarity with all creation.

Much of the damage to the environment, such as overfishing, deforestation, polluting of waterways, we’ve done in the belief that we owned the land and water. This attitude is anathema to Māori. They appreciate the sea, the land and the water as sacred, as kin.

In fact, Māori act from the insight that the people belong to the land, not the other way around. They know that abuse of that kinship can have dire consequences. Whereas we’re stumbling to learn sustainability, for Māori it’s a well-honed spiritual practice.

I’m like a lot of Pāhehā New Zealanders who now have Māori in our families, around our tables, parenting our niblings and mokopuna (grandkids) and I feel wonder and inadequacy.

Wonder, that it happened quickly — within a generation we have whānau with Māori names — Matai, Maarata, Turi, Hoani, Aroha — among us.

And inadequacy because I keep discovering my racism. But with whānau, I have the powerful motivation of love to become more bi-cultural. It’s prompting me especially to be supportive of Māori initiatives.

Like my friend in England, I’m in love with Ruby, too, and grateful and proud!

Ann Gilroy rsj