Protecting a taonga
1st August 1987 finally saw te reo Māori recognised as an official language of New Zealand under the Māori Language Act. This was the result of a long struggle by Māori and their allies. The historic 1985 Te Reo Māori claim was one of the earliest Waitangi Tribunal claims, asserting that te reo Māori (the Māori language) was a taonga (treasure) the Crown should protect under the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Act established the Māori Language Commission (renamed Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori in 1991) to promote Māori as a ‘living language’ and ‘an ordinary means of communication’. Te reo Māori had been suppressed for decades and was struggling to survive. It was the predominant language spoken in Aotearoa until the mid -19th century, but by the mid -20th century it was increasingly only heard in Māori communities.
The Second World War brought huge changes for Māori society. Plenty of work in towns and cities saw Māori move into urban areas in greater numbers. English was the language of urban New Zealand – at work, in school and in recreational activities and the number of Māori speakers decreased rapidly.
The 1970’s saw increased efforts to revitalise the language. In 1972 the influential group, Ngā Tamatoa, collected over 30,000 signatures calling for Māori to be offered in schools.This petition was delivered to Parliament on 14 September 1972. A Māori Language Day introduced that year became Māori Language Week in 1975. This year Te Wiki o te Reo Māori runs from 14 -20 September.
Read more about the historic Te Reo Māori Waitangi Tribunal claim