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Scotty Morrison’s home truths: ‘I’ve never spoken English to our kids’

The TV presenter and his wife Stacey are keeping their traditions alive

Scotty Morrison, 52, is widely regarded as one of the leading advocates of te reo Māori in Aotearoa, presenting the news for Radio Waatea, Te Karere and Marae in our native language and, alongside his wife Stacey, 50, authoring a raft of popular Māori books.

But while recently filming the second season of Origins, the media stalwart reveals he was astounded to discover new knowledge about his ancestors he’d never before considered. Sitting down with the Weekly, Scotty talks about the highly emotional series, his own learning pathway and his passion for sharing the language with his children, wife and the rest of the country.

Tell us about filming the second series of Origins.

We’re tracking the kūmara and how it came to be a staple crop in Aotearoa and a reference point in our development as tāngata whenua [indigenous people]. It takes us to very interesting places like the Marquesas Islands [in French Polynesia]. I’ve never heard anyone talking about how we connect with them before. It’s a really emotional journey.

Can you expand more on how that felt?

Being in places where my ancestors have been and walking in their footsteps is highly emotional. It’s also realising how connected we are. In the Marquesas Islands, one of their tattoo experts recited his whakapapa [genealogy] with the same names and same line as ours. We share tūpuna [ancestors]. A similar thing also happened in Hawaii.

Stacey and Scotty presented popular TV show National Treasures, showcasing historical objects and their unique stories.

What brings you joy?

Whānau, our kids, work and seeing people succeed. When I was younger, I was pushing to succeed, but now I get a lot of joy contributing to others people’s success and seeing them do well.

How are others, including your family, responding to what you’ve learned?

The looks on their faces – they’re amazed and enthralled by it, even the kids. Our ancestors were so intelligent. One of the waka captains in Hawaii explained they never took anything or anyone that didn’t have a purpose. They would bring the kiore, the native rat, and release it when they found new whenua [land] because the first thing it does is look for fresh water. If it didn’t find fresh water, they knew they couldn’t survive there and would move on.

How do you start each morning?

I have commitments at Radio Waatea, so I’m always up pretty early. My eyes pop open at 6am and I try to fit in some exercise, whether it’s jujitsu, boxing or the gym, before the kids wake after 7am.

What’s your cuppa of choice?

Kawhe me te kirimi – long black coffee with cream. I was a Red Bull addict back in the day, drinking it when I got tired before Te Karere in the afternoon. Then one day, Stacey ambushed me, taking me to a hui [meeting], but it was actually with a nutritionist, who told me to swap to coffee.

How did you and Stacey decide to raise your three children speaking only te reo Māori at home?

We didn’t get the reo as our birthright when we were kids – and that’s just the way it was in those times – but we knew we would definitely change the game to make sure our kids would. Stace will tell you she was a medium-level speaker and I was more fluent, but she was better than she gives herself credit for. She’s very intelligent and a fast learner. It’s very natural now and I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally or directly spoken a word of English to our kids.

The star and his wife are learning together.

It’s Māori Language Week – how do you acknowledge this?

Every week, every day, every minute is in te reo Māori in our house. But it’s a very important time for highlighting the language, its history and the people who fought for its survival, and got it to the point where its enjoying a revival. It’s the thing that makes us unique and we should be celebrating te reo Māori and our culture on a national and global scale.

What influenced you to learn te reo Māori?

I like to think it was te reo calling me to learn it when I needed to fill a gap in my university schedule. I was very average at te reo then – just scraping by – but I ended up in a bilingual teaching stream at Waikato University and got exposed to amazing fluent speakers. They started to teach me more and took me in as their pet project. I got invited to live in a flat with them, but didn’t register they weren’t going to speak English at home, so I was accidentally in an immersion setting. I started when I was 20 and I’m still learning now.

Origins screens Monday and Tuesday, September 11 and 12 at 8.30pm on TVNZ 1 and streams on TVNZ+.

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