NEW ZEALAND: The kia ora incident / Is “Pakeha” racist?

In 1984, Naida Glavish, a telephone operator at a post office in Auckland, was ordered to stop answering the phone with “kia ora”, a Maori greeting, after a complaint. The story hit the press, and eventually the post office backed down once the Prime Minister took her side. The incident spurred a national discussion on the use of te reo Maori, and became part of a larger movement to revitalize the language. Here’s a brief history:

Te reo seems to be really widespread nowadays – it’s really a success story for the revitalization of Indigenous languages. There’s a lot of media out there in te reo, it’s an official language of New Zealand (though there isn’t official bilingualism), and it’s taught in schools – though not compulsory. Maori names and words pop up in English (like Aotearoa) and kia ora seems to have become a default greeting for anyone.

However, not everyone is happy about the increasing presence of te reo – not only have people filed official complaints about the use of the language on air, the number of complaints has increased to the point where the Broadcasting Standards Authority had to issue a blanket statement last year that it would not investigate complaints of this type.

There also have been complaints about the use of the term Pakeha to describe non-Maori New Zealanders, especially those of European descent – there are misconceptions about what the term means, including myths that it means “pig skin” or that it’s intended to be a slur.

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