te_parare_logo_Artboard%202_edited.jpg
  • Mary-Therese Leathers

Reclaiming our Reo

Disheartened by the school system, 16 year old Ngāpuhi native Lillian Smith left school to join her sister in Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua to start nurse training. She met her husband and raised two children in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Now, Lillian and her whānau reside in Te Matau-ā-Maui. Lillian is a full-time student at Te Ūranga Waka committed to reclaiming te reo Māori for her whānau.


Image: Supplied

Nō hea koe? || Where are you from?


Ko Te Reinga te maunga

Ko Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe te moana

Ko Waihou te awa

Ko Ngatokimatawhaorua te waka

Ko Waihou-nui-a-rua te marae

Ko Waimirirangi te whare tipuna

Ko Te Rarawa te iwi

Ko Te Uri-o-Te Aho te hapū

Ko Lillian Leathers (Smith) tēnei


I grew up in Tāmaki-Makaurau. My parents left Te Hokianga for mahi and also to provide my siblings and me with, what they thought was a good education.

I was raised by older parents. I am the youngest of 5. My mother had me in her forties.

We were raised by hard-working parents. They owned their own home. We were loved, nurtured and taught to be giving. We always had extended whānau living with us. My mother cared for a lot of her whānau, and my father supported that tikanga.


He aha ō wheako i a koe i te kura? || What were your early experiences of school like?


I remember enjoying school. I had good friends. I think I was fairly intelligent, but when I got to senior college, there was no support, and no guidance. Not from school and not from my parents. My parents left school at 12 and 14 to work. So to get a school certificate or higher was to succeed in their minds.

They did not have the experience or knowledge to guide me any further.

If I left school and got a job, labourer, factory worker unskilled was OK, because in their experience that was a successful road to take.


Ki te hoki mahara koe, kua pēhea te āhua o te kura tīni ai? I pēhea tō tirohanga mō te mahi rangahau i tīni ai hoki? || Looking back, how do you think kura has changed? How has your perspective changed on studying?


I have recently worked in the public school system and there appears to be a lot of support for all of the children. Social support, whānau support, and educational support. The role of a teacher now seems more encompassing.

As for my experience as a parent in the school system, it has been mixed. I think that my tamariki are lucky to have assertive parents who ask questions of the schools, know how to do research, and find out the best pathways. Both my husband and I have the ability to guide them. A lot of our tamariki do not have that. I think it is sad.

Education is power. This does not mean that you have to strive to be the Prime Minister. But you then have the tools to work things out. Even basic things. Little problems, so that they don’t become big problems. Education is power. But so is aroha, whānau, manaakitanga.


He aha tērā i whakaohoho i a koe ki te rēhita ki Te Ūranga Waka, ā, tīmata ai i tō haerenga ki te whakahoki i tō reo Māori ? || What inspired you to enrol at Te Ūranga Waka, taking the next step in your journey reclaiming te reo Māori?


I am a product of parents who were punished for speaking te reo at kura. They moved from extremely remote settlements where māori was the first language to Auckland where english ruled. My mother, bless her heart, saw no value in our learning te reo. She was a fluent te reo speaker.

In my fifties now, I finally have the time, energy, commitment and financial support of my husband to be able to go back to kura full-time.

I enrolled at Te Uranga Waka because firstly it is close to where I live. Second, I had heard a lot of positive feedback about EIT in general. Third, and most important, Te Uranga Waka has a wharenui, Te Ara o Tāwaki. I knew that learning within and around a marae setting would be hugely beneficial to my learning. I have not once regretted my decision to go to Te Ūranga Waka.


Kei te ako hoki koe ki te karanga, he aha koe rēhita ai ki tērā tūmomo akoranga? || You have also been training in Karanga, what inspired you to enrol in that programme?


Two of my classmates were attending a karanga programme made up of noho at Kurawaka in Porangahau. Another fees free programme attached to EIT. These two wāhine had so much positive kōrero after each noho, I had to find out for myself.

The hope is that if I ever find myself in a situation where I am kaikaranga, I can give that taonga the mana that it deserves.


I runga i tō haerenga, he aha ngā tino akoranga mōu? || What lessons have been really valuable to you along your journey?


Just how absolutely beautiful our reo is. It made me realise how in tune our tupuna were with te taiao. Everything is always considered. To learn te reo, you must be prepared to learn the culture. I believe they go hand in hand.

If anyone is considering embarking on this journey, be prepared to fall in love. Be prepared to yearn for more. I want to learn more about where I’m from, why we do things. And, it’s never too late! No matter what your age is, you can do this.



He aha tētahi o ngā wero mōu? || What is a challenge you've faced?


Just using my brain again. I must admit learning can be really draining. As well as developing good study habits. You must put time aside for mahi kāinga.


He aha ētahi kōrero tohutohu mō te hunga hiakai ki te ako reo Māori, ki te karanga rānei? || Do you have any tips for anyone seeking to start their journey learning te reo Māori or even karanga?


Absorb yourself in Te Ao Māori. Try to kōrero every day. Incorporate as much as you can into your everyday life. Don’t be scared to try. Even if you get a couple kupu wrong.

Mā te aha i te ngana - There is no harm in trying.




Nā Mary-Therese Leathers