students greeted a group of New Zealand educators with a traditional
Navajo song as they walked into Diné Bi Olta School Sept.
"We're here to listen and learn from the Navajo Nation,"
said Hemi Rau, an educational leader and advocate for Maori language
immersion schools in New Zealand.
The group of eight Maoris spent the day touring the Window Rock
area and listening to officials from the Department of Diné
Education, the vice president's office and other tribal agencies
discuss Navajo efforts to preserve the language.
Rau said his group was interested in learning how indigenous
people in the United States preserve or, in many cases, revive their
native languages. The Navajo Nation was one stop in a two-week tour
of the country that included New York City and two Keres-speaking
pueblos, Acoma and Cochiti.
As the group toured the only public Navajo language immersion
school on the reservation, Rau and his group talked about the struggles
the Maori people have had in preserving their language and culture
against waves of European immigrants.
New Zealand is now part of the British Commonwealth, its governing
systems modeled on those of the English, and many of the Maori's
experiences mirror the fight for recognition of indigenous rights
by the U.S. government.
"We have had the same struggles," said Kalvin White,
educational administrator with the Office of Diné Science,
Math and Technology.
Rau said Maori leaders too concluded that language preservation
would help instill pride in their traditions, which would in turn
create well-being for individual tribal members because they would
have a better sense of their cultural identity.
"Ideally, it would be good for Maori children to attend
tribal schools," Rau said.
White agreed. In earlier interviews, White and other DODE officials
have said learning Navajo culture would help Navajo individuals
prosper because they would have a secure sense of their identity.
However, one large advantage exists for the Maoris that doesn't
exist in the U.S. - backing by federal and state authorities for
a curriculum decided entirely by the Maoris themselves.
Rau said New Zealand recognizes Maori schools as "special
character" schools, and allows the Maori people to dictate
the education their students receive without significant interference
from New Zealand education officials.