Learning Te Reo Māori as a Health
Recently Te Koru Therapy & Rehab Speech
Language Therapist Fiona Dominick and
Occupational Therapist Beth Robertson
graduated from Te Whare Wānanga O
Awanuiārangi with Te Pōkaitahi Reo (Rumaki,
Reo Rua) (Te Kaupae Tahi). Below is an
extract of Fiona’s thoughts about her te reo
journey that was shared with Te Koru staff.
Who am I? Where am I from? These don’t sound like typical
questions we ask ourselves to improve health services we provide
to our communities. They were not the questions I expected to be
asking when learning Te Reo Māori. I thought I was going to learn
a language on a course but I was soon to experience a shift in
mind-set which allowed me to reflect more deeply.
When I first moved to Whakatāne from Dunoon, Scotland, with
my husband, we were lucky to connect with Te Whānau-ā-Apanui
in our first year. He landed a job working with Te Ao Hou PHO in
Ōpōtiki and his rangatira (leader) was Leanne Morehu. She took
us to Te Kaha and onto Pāhāōa marae where her Kapa Haka
group was training for Te Matatini. We sang waiata, we sewed poi,
we ate delicious kai and we experienced the generosity, love and
kindness of Te Ao Māori. I felt at home there, and I often pondered
on why I had a longing to be sharing space with tangata whenua
(indigenous to Aotearoa) thereafter.
Fast forward 12 years, and it was time to weave in my informal
learnings of Te Ao Māori and begin my journey studying Te Reo,
enrolling to do Pōkaitahi Reo, Te Kaupae Tahi with Te Whare
Wānanga O Awanuiārangi. It seemed obvious to me that working
as a Speech and Language Therapist in the Eastern Bay, knowing
both English and Te Reo Māori would be helpful in providing a
good service to tangata whaiora (clients). What I didn’t realise was
that it would be a journey of self-discovery and I would be learning
more than a language.
I started the course in June 2018 with some colleagues from
Whakatāne including Beth Robertson. Our first two aromatawai
(assignments) were learning our Whakapapa (lineage/genealogy/
connections to people) and our Pepeha (connections to the land).
I had to put some serious thought into where I was from, as I was
born in Scotland and moved around a lot.
I began researching my clan and discovered that within the clan
system, Scottish people had their own waiata, their own wisdom
keepers and used rongoā (natural medicine), such as seaweed.
Scottish people were Pagans before Christianity came along,
and had a strong connection to nature, with a positive morality to
harm nothing living in oneness with all living things (kotahitanga).
We had a language that had been suppressed and musical
instruments that had been banned for some time. Our Bards, who
were entertainers that carried wisdom through stories, poems
and songs, were killed and buried face down so they could no
longer speak of our history. This was why I was here! My tīpuna
(ancestors) brought me to Aotearoa to learn from Māori that I had
my own rich history and indigenous roots and a land that was
waiting for us to wake up and remember.
Whakawhanaungatanga (making connections and relating to
the people one meets) really resonated with me. Often we get
the idea of ‘Professional Boundaries’ drilled in as we study and
learn our trade. However, working with tangata whaiora has made
me realise that who you are and where you’re from and trying
Above: Fiona and Beth on graduation day.
to figure out how you connect is not only ok, it’s an essential
part in supporting someone’s healing. I have made connections
through the kaiako and tauira (teachers and students) I have met
at Awanuiārangi. You have to be open to sharing a little bit about
The six month level one course has also given me the ability to
pronounce names of people and places confidently and correctly.
I can greet and ask tangata whaiora and whānau how they are in
Te Reo Māori which is so very important to building a rapport with
I have gained a deeper understanding of Māori customs and
culture and have been able to make this part of therapy sessions
improving the quality of care for individuals. For some this could
mean starting and closing each therapy session with karakia and
waiata. I had one client who would get anxious during therapy
exercises, I discovered if we sang together this would put her at
Recently I was invited to a marae in Ruatoki by a client. I was a
little nervous going, but my studies gave me the confidence about
marae protocol to attend. I was able to see a wāhine I had been
working with stand up and korero (speak) in Māori for the first time
since she had a stroke and it was a beautiful moment that brought
If you’ve been thinking about Te Reo classes for some time just
jump on board and do it, you won’t regret it! Karawhiua (give it
Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei.
Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let
it be to a lofty mountain.
This whakatauki is about aiming high or for what is truly valuable,
but it's real message is to be persistent and don't let obstacles
stop you from reaching your goal.