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He Whakapapa Reo Māori – Short History of Māori language

Short History of Māori language
Māori is the foundation language of Aotearoa, the ancestral language of tangata whenua and a taonga guaranteed protection under the Treaty of Waitangi.

During the 19th and early 20th century Māori language was the main language of communication. However, the establishment of schools saw Māori children being taught almost entirely in English. An English language only policy was often strictly enforced through physical punishment.

Maori migrationUrban migration
During the 1940s-1970s Māori migrated from rural communities to urban centres. English language was seen by many Māori as the key to wealth, increased social standing and better standards of living. Many Māori parents stopped speaking Māori to their children. This, together with policies which favoured English as the dominant language, resulted in a massive language loss within the Māori population who moved from speaking Māori to English.


te-reo-revivalLanguage initiatives
By the 1970s, it was predicted that Māori would soon be a language without native speakers. This caused grave concern among Māori, resulting in initiatives to revitalise the language including Te Ātaarangi, kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori and Māori broadcasting.



Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi
In 1840, an agreement between the British Crown and Māori, known as The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by representatives of the Crown and many Māori chiefs and became a founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Māori believed the Crown had a responsibility under the Treaty to ensure the survival of Māori Language. In 1985 the Waitangi Tribunal gave consideration to the Te Reo Māori Claim (Wai 11) lodged by Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo (The Māori Language Board of Wellington) which sought recognition of the Māori language as an official language of New Zealand, and for all purposes.

The Waitangi Tribunal report of 1986 WAI 11 acknowledged Māori language as a ‘taonga’ under Article II of the Treaty and that the Crown therefore has a responsibility for its preservation.
As a result of the Treaty claim, the Māori Language Act 1987 was passed:

  • declaring Māori language to be an official language of New Zealand;
  • conferring the right to speak Māori in certain legal proceedings; and
  • establishing the Māori Language Commission – Te Taura Whiri.

In addition, the claim made recommendations in terms of education, broadcasting and State Services. As a result of these recommendations, a number of initiatives have been implemented which have seen the growth of Māori language schools and tertiary educational institutions, the establishment of iwi radio stations, and the introduction of Māori television.  (http://www.korero.maori.nz)

The next step in the journey … Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill 2014

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If passed into law this bill will repeal the Māori Language Act 1987 and Part 4A of the Broadcasting Act 1989. This bill also aims to establishes an independent entity, Te Mātāwai, to provide leadership on behalf of iwi and Māori regarding the health of the Māori language.

Click here for some online Te reo resources.

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