An offended Queenstowner is officially complaining about a retailer who reacted to a common Maori greeting by calling it “offensive” and “plain silly”.
Travel New Zealand publisher Gary Cody had a sales representative send BONZ retail owner Bonnie Rodwell’s office manager an email requesting advertising support – the email began ‘Kia Ora…’.
Rodwell replied: “Sorry but why do we need to be addressed with kia ora?
“Neither myself or [my office manager] speak Maori. Maybe more people would advertise with you if we were addressed with a little more respect.
“Whilst it may be a great government issue (and perhaps a little ‘in vogue’) some of us, in private businesses that support NZ, find it offensive.
“Whilst we have no issue with anything ‘Maori’ at all, we find it plain silly.”
Cody says he’s “absolutely gobsmacked” by Rodwell’s response last Thursday – on the eve of this week’s Maori Language Week.
“I couldn’t believe that someone who relied on tourism is offended by that greeting, I really couldn’t,” Cody says, adding he’s complained to Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.
His staff use ‘kia ora’ as an opening greeting in all company emails, he says: “Not once have we been criticised or told it was inappropriate.
“It’s more than appropriate in the tourism industry, it’s traditional, and it has been for a long time.”
Cody says he uses ‘kia ora’ for two reasons.
“The main reason is respect for the culture – we say it to respect the fact the land was Maori, it’s one of the very small ways we can acknowledge them as indigenous people.
“The other reason is it’s a wonderful marketing tool for New Zealand. You’ve only got to take Fiji’s ‘Bula’, Hawaii’s ‘Aloha’ – they use that as a brand.
“People have woken up to the fact that our culture is a huge asset to NZ – it’s one of the top-five attractions which attract visitors.”
Rodwell, speaking this week from her award-winning Queensland resort, makes no apologies for her email.
Cody’s advertising representative, she says, is Irish: “I love Maoris (sic), I spent a lot of time with them when I was young, but I just find it offensive to be addressed ‘kia ora’ by an Irishwoman that doesn’t understand, really, the Maori language.”
Rodwell, whose company BONZ stands for ‘Best of New Zealand’ says Government departments are also “Kia Ora-ing on the phone”.
“I don’t like it. Why don’t they understand real Maoridom and stop using it as a tourism slang?
“I don’t feel like it’s a word that needs to be used and abused. I’ll always greet a Maori with ‘kia ora’ and I’ll rub noses with a Maori.”
Rodwell says Cody’s foolish to complain to the Race Relations Commissioner: “Sorry, but does he travel out of Queenstown at all, it’s such a big world out there. I think he’s just offended ’cos I decided not to advertise.”
Rodwell says she’s not concerned about being investigated.
“What are they going to say to me? Are they going to say, ‘you’re a very naughty girl, you should not write what you feel in emails in case you offend a very sensitive Kiwi’.”
Prominent Queenstown Maori Darren Rewi, who works for Air NZ and used to teach the language at Queenstown Primary, welcomes people using ‘kia ora’.
“One of our first steps in respecting other cultures is taking on some of their terms. If we’re happy to accept ‘kia ora’, we’ll be happy to accept the Japanese and Chinese and Samoan and all the other ethnicities.”
A Human Rights Commission spokesman says it’s not appropriate for Devoy to comment, but adds: “In general, Maori and English are two of the country’s official languages. Many phrases from Maori, including ‘Kia ora’ are in common use. As one of the agencies promoting Maori Language Week…the commission says the revival of Maori language is an important contribution to the country’s culture.”