Te Tai – Treaty Settlement Stories

WARU | 8
1985–2020 Post-claim revitalisation

Key events in this chapter

  • 1987: The Māori Language Act is passed in Parliament
  • 1987: Māori declared to be an official language
  • 1987: Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori is established
  • 1991: The WAI262 claim is lodged
  • 1993: Te Māngai Pāho is established
  • 2004: Māori Television is broadcast for the first time
  • 2010: The WAI262 claim is mandated
  • 2016: The Māori Language Act is amended
  • 2016: Te Mātāwai is established.

After decades of Māori advocacy for the support and recognition of te reo Māori, the Crown finally began contributing to the revitalisation of te reo Māori. From the late 1980s it established several entities to work in partnership with Māori in this field.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) was established in 1987. It was tasked with ensuring government agencies could communicate in te reo Māori. The commission works with government departments to ensure they have the requisite skills to communicate with Māori in te reo. Te Taura Whiri has commissioned research, helped develop policy and assisted with language planning.

Takuta Ray Harlow, Ahorangi Timoti Karetu, Ta Kingi Matutaera Ihaka, Hon Koro Wetere, Katerina Te Heikoko, Mataira, Anita Moke standing next to each other
The first board of the Māori Language Commission, 1987 (from left): Tākuta Ray Harlow, Ahorangi Tīmoti Kāretu, Tā Kingi Matutaera Īhaka, Hon Koro Wetere, Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira, Ānita Moke.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Evening Post Collection; Reference: EP/1987/4271/18-F;

Acknowledging that the language must be seen and heard, the Crown took steps to increase the presence of te reo Māori on Aotearoa’s airwaves and television screens. Te Māngai Pāho was established in 1993 to provide funding for the national network of iwi radio stations, and for the production and broadcasting of music, radio and television programmes in Māori. In the 1990s, these songs and shows had to find space in the English mainstream media, but that changed in 2004 with the introduction of Māori Television.

The launch of Māori Television was a large, poignant event. The dawn opening ceremony for its Newmarket studio attracted Māori from across the country. Within weeks of the launch, Māori Television was covering the foreshore and seabed hikoi from a te ao Māori perspective. It went on to provide exceptional coverage of Anzac Day commemorations, Te Matatini, and the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It was a struggle. Māori Television was heavily scrutinised (sometimes unfairly) and often underfunded, but it has been a success. In 2008, Māori Television launched Te Reo, a second channel with content entirely in Māori.

But government action by itself is not enough. It is built on and supported by iwi and hapū, who have been advocating and working for years.

Fortunately, there are signs that te reo Māori is becoming more widely used and accepted in the wider Aotearoa community. Te reo Māori is increasingly heard on mainstream television and radio. Fluent te reo Māori speakers who have fronted news and current affairs shows include Jenny-May Clarkson (Breakfast) and Kanoa Lloyd (3News and The Project).

Kanoa Lloyd tells her reo story and how she normalises using te reo Māori.
Reo Māori, YouTube

Non-Māori presenters have also upskilled and incorporated te reo Māori into their work, from Jack Tame greeting Breakfast viewers with ‘Mōrena e te whānau’ to Guyon Espiner’s eloquent flow of kōrero on RNZ’s Morning report.

Breakfast television host Jack Tame encourages New Zealanders to try te reo Māori phrases.
TVNZ, YouTube

There are other signs that the health of te reo Māori is improving. A third lexical expansion (development of vocabulary) is occurring, as the language adapts to new technologies like computers (rorohiko pōnaho), smartphones (waea pūkoro) and wi-fi (waiwhai). A report in 2017 showing that generational language transfer was taking place for the first time since the 1970s credited ‘Ministers, government agencies and especially … the Māori people and their whanau, hapū and iwi’ for this development.

There has been a proliferation of te reo Māori resources, including podcasts, music and movies. Disney’s Moana movie was translated into te reo Māori and proved immensely popular. Older forms of te reo Māori revitalisation also continue. Māori Language Week gets bigger each year, with events and parades across the country, while Te Karere, the Māori-language news show, celebrated its 35th birthday in 2018.

Heavy metal band Alien Weaponry’s 'Rū Ana Te Whenua'.
Alien Weaponry, YouTube
Taringa podcast celebrates its 100th episode.
Te Karere TVNZ, YouTube
A video clip from the 2019 Te Wiki o te Reo parade in Wellington.
Reo Māori, YouTube
A news clip celebrating Te Karere’s 35th year.
Te Karere (TVNZ), YouTube

The Crown must continue to work with Māori to build on these positive trends. Te Ture mō te Reo Māori 2016 (the Māori Language Act 2016) sets out the partnership iwi and Māori and the Crown share in revitalising te reo Māori. Iwi and Māori are represented by Te Mātāwai, a Crown entity responsible for nurturing te reo Māori in homes, communities and tamariki. The Crown’s work is focused on New Zealand society in general, ensuring te reo Māori is valued, used, and continues to be developed. This mahi is expressed in the Maihi Karauna, the Crown’s Strategy for Māori Language Revitalisation 2019–2023.

The Maihi Karauna sets out three audacious goals to be achieved by 2040:
  1. 85% of New Zealanders (or more) will value te reo Māori as a key part of national identity.
  2. One million New Zealanders (or more) will have the ability and confidence to talk about at least basic things in te reo Māori.
  3. 150,000 Māori aged 15 and over will use te reo Māori as much as English.

The story of te reo Māori revitalisation is an ongoing one. All the partners mentioned in this chapter are a part of it. While the Crown and the general public have essential supporting roles, Māori are and should be the leaders. The language is their taonga and it is their culture that the language supports. Kia kaha te reo Māori.

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