Coach of netball team criticised for using te reo wants to help complainers understand 'love of the language'

Who would have thought speaking Te Reo Māori on the netball court would be an issue these days?

Tauranga moana schools Te Wharekura o Mauao and Te Kura o Matapihi encourage their kids to kōrero Māori outside of the classroom, but when it hit the netball courts, it sparked complaints from competing teams.

The issue has been hotly debated, with many Māori across the country saying this experience is not unusual.

Rititia Ngawhika, the Tauranga moana kaiako who reignited the debate, spoke to Marae about her team's experience, and why she wasn't interested in the blame game.

"Just to let you know, this isn't about threatening, blaming or who caused the hurt," she said.

"All I'm doing today is publicly acknowledging that it is time that we begin to foster those who don't understand [our language] to find a way for them to understand what we're talking about."

A fortnight ago, she was coaching a team in Tauranga when a woman on the sideline asked her why she was speaking Māori to her team.

For her, the answer was simple.

"When I speak English, I become lost, my children become lost, but when I speak Māori my children know quickly what I want, what we need to do and where we are doing."

She didn't think the woman was trying to belittle the team or her mana, but genuinely wanted to know why they were speaking te reo.

Another teacher involved with the team, Keeri Stanley-Kaweroa, told Marae she often hears people talking negatively about them, and Māori-speaking six- and seven-year-olds at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani Waititi Marae were also subject to negative comments recently. 

Ngawhika hopes she made a lasting impressing on the unknown woman.

"If you come up to me with those kind of questions regarding te reo, my anger tends to show, that's just me.

"But it's all for the love of the language. 

"She said, 'I want to go and learn', and I thought to myself, 'Thank you, that's amazing'.

"I thought I should high-five myself for holding my anger. 

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A woman on the sidelines asked why young team from Tauranga’s Te Kura o Matapihi was speaking Māori, not English, on court. Source: Marae