Rongomaraeroa-o-nga-hau e wha. NZ Army Marae Waiouru - Source NZDF

NZDF and Te Reo Māori

This week (14-20 September 2020) is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Maori Language Week) in New Zealand. As a Pākehā and first-generation Kiwi, I wish to congratulate Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa (the New Zealand Defence Force) on the real progress that has been made in terms of combining the British military tradition with Māori warrior culture. I also want to lay down a wero (challenge) to those still serving.

In the 1980s, a small group headed by then Colonel Roger Mortlock planted the first seeds of what would become Ngati Tumatauenga – The tribe of the Māori god of war and peace and a new cultural path for the Army. Like all new ideas, there were plenty of knockers and few enthusiastic supporters. Without turning this into a history lesson, our role in helping to bring peace to Bougainville was a watershed for the initiative and despite many speed bumps, it has continued to grow and enrich our uniqueness as a joint force.

I couldn’t have been prouder, in 2010, when I watched my son lead the Army Haka at a parade for his Officer Cadet School class. A Staff Sergeant who I used to serve with asked me what iwi we were from. A few years earlier, I would have said tauiwi – a foreigner or one without a tribe. Instead, I replied “Ngati Tu.” He nodded. When I mihi (greet or introduce), I still acknowledge my ancestral clans of McEwan and McGregor and our mountain and river in Scotland. But I also acknowledge my ties to this culture through Tumatauenga.

Another significant moment, for me, came in Ottawa while watching the changing of the guard at the Canadian Parliament in 1999. The Guard Commander gave all the foot drill commands in english and all the rifle drill commands in french. It was a powerful display of a nation that embraces its bi-lingualism. I believe it could be a logical step for what is referred to as ‘Joint Forces Drill’, the hybrid style that is used when Navy, Army and Air Force are on parade together.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece called ‘Rima Tekau’ (my 50th blog post on unclas.com) about how our rank structure was outdated and that there were several ‘orphan ranks.’ I wish to close by reiterating the idea I floated in there that we could also continue our bi-lingual (and joint force) journey by assigning dual language rank titles and uniting the most junior rank with one te reo Māori word. I realise that the word ‘Toa’ has many meanings beyond warrior so just read it as a concept. But surely, a single word to replace the ranks of Ordinary Seaman, Private, Trooper, Gunner, Sapper, Driver, Signaller (etc) and Aircraftsman/woman is worth a serious discussion. Not only would it be unique to New Zealand but it is gender neutral as well.

The renowned economist, Milton Friedman, said, “That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

I think that is absolutely true in regard to building a better society and the NZDF can continue to play a leading role in that.

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Coming soon – a Kiwi crime thriller involving gangs, drugs and some not so straight cops!

A Poke in the Fifth Eye - A short story by Simon Roberts. From the Robert McGregor Series. Copyright.
A Poke in the Fifth Eye – A short story by Simon Roberts. From the Robert McGregor Series. Copyright.