Throughout Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori and Mahuru Maori we will profile local people about their “te reo journey”.
Today we look at the journey of Craig Patty and his son Josh, who is 18 years old and on the autism spectrum.
The pair are learning te reo together and spoke to reporter Shaan Te Kani about how the language has been a way of connecting with their Maori heritage as well as making them feel part of a community.
EVERY Wednesday evening Craig Patty and his son Josh attend kura po (night classes) at EIT’s Te Whatukura school of Maori language and learning.
It has become part of their weekly routine and now that they are into their third semester of learning, there is no looking back.
Craig, who is of Ngai Te Rangi descent from the Tauranga Moana area, said he had always had a yearning to reconnect with his taha Maori (Maori side).
But when he and his family moved from Australia to Gisborne in 2015, he never expected that they would be on the path they are now.
“We had just come back from Australia and were looking at ways of engaging with the community. I just felt this calling to come home.
“I had always wanted to learn te reo, so we popped into EIT one day and the staff were very inviting. They have embraced us since day one. It has been quite amazing.
“During our first semester it was very emotional. Not only were we finding ourselves in the language, but we were identifying with the past and we had begun our journey of connecting with our Maori identity.”
The other side of it was that Josh, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, was participating in a class full of new people.
“He had never been to high school, so he was showing a lot of guts standing up in front of 20 people and speaking in a different language.
“The whole experience was new for Josh but now he has had visits to a marae.
“At two years old he was speaking. Then, not long after he received a standard vaccination, he lost his speech. A while after that he was diagnosed.
“There have been many challenges but many amazing things have happened as well.
“Josh can now speak three languages — English, Japanese (my wife Noriko is from Japan) and now Maori.”
After they completed their first semester, they did not want to stop there and were encouraged to return for another semester of night classes.
“He greets everyone as they turn up for class and everyone is very supportive towards Josh in return. He also uses te reo outside class as well.
“We have such a diverse group in our class and everyone is very keen to learn and help one another.
“I was concerned when we first started, that because of Josh’s autism it might hold the class back.
“When I told the tutors that Josh had autism, they all said “it’s all good”, which I think really says something about Maori culture and how it is accepting of all people.
“We have seen continued improvement in Josh, especially his social skills, and believe that te reo Maori and the Whatukura whanau have played an important role. It is something Noriko and I are extremely grateful for.”
The classes have been a good foundation for Craig in helping him to connect with his roots.
“The more we learn about the language, the more we find out about our identity.
“Our goal is to take my family back to Matakana Island — that’s where we are from.”