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Ko taku reo, ko taku whakaohooho

September 21, 2023

Waitangi Tribunal members Chief Judge Edward Durie (left) and Paul Temm QC visit a kōhanga reo, or Māori language nursery, at Waiwhetu, Lower Hutt,1985 (Photo: Fairfax Media NZ)

This is a whakatauki (proverb) closely associated with language revitalization, a struggle which is very important in maintaining culture. Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, Māori Language week, runs from 9-14 September this year.

Te Reo Māori became an official language in August 1987 after a long struggle by Māori and their allies. Between 1920 and 1960 there was a steep decline in speakers of Te Reo Māori. The 1970s saw an increase in cultural and political action to revitalise the language and change attitudes towards it.

In 1985 the Waitangi Tribunal heard the historic Te Reo Māori claim, which asserted that Te Reo Māori was a taonga (treasure) that the Crown was obliged to protect under the Treaty of Waitangi. The Tribunal ruled in favour of the claimants and recommended a number of legislative and policy remedies.  One of these was the Māori Language Act of August 1987 which made Te Reo Māori an official language of New Zealand. The Act also established the Māori Language Commission to promote the use of Māori as a ‘living language’ and ‘an ordinary means of communication’.

When did Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, Māori Language Week, start?  In 1972 the influential group, Ngā Tamatoa, collected a petition of over 30 000 signatures and called for the government to offer Māori language in schools, as a gift from Māori to Pakeha. This petition was delivered to Parliament on 14 September. That year the group was also instrumental in establishing Māori Language Day, which extended to Māori Language Week in 1975. It continues to this day with nation-wide events.

Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori – The language is the heart and soul of the mana of Māoridom