Te reo Māori is special to Aotearoa New Zealand. It is one of our official languages and is a unique feature of our country that distinguishes us on the world stage. It is vital that government, on behalf of all New Zealanders, works closely with iwi and Māori to ensure that this taonga is protected and revitalised for future generations.
Te reo Māori has experienced a varied history. In the first half of the nineteenth century it was the first language of the majority of the inhabitants of Aotearoa New Zealand, and was known by nonMāori as well as Māori. By the second half of the twentieth century, an almost complete reversal had taken place where English had become the everyday language, reflecting a similar trajectory for other languages in other parts of the world. Despite this, te reo Māori has been remarkably resilient, and has been retained through use in homes and communities, and through Māori-led initiatives such as the Kōhanga Reo movement.
We are now at a critical fork in the road for te reo Māori. On one hand, there is growing demand from people across all ethnicities and walks of life to value, learn and use the language. Communities of te reo Māori speakers around the country are taking dedicated action. There are also efforts being made by mainstream broadcasters, individuals and companies.
On the other hand, te reo Māori remains listed as vulnerable in UNESCO’s Atlas of Languages. The proportion of Māori who are very proficient speakers has remained static at roughly eleven per cent between 2001 and 2013, though this group tends to be older than the rest of the speaker population.
The percentage of Māori who can hold an everyday conversation in te reo Māori is declining. If this trend is shown to be continuing once data from Census 2018 is available, we will be left in no doubt as to the urgency of the efforts that are needed.
Significant Crown funding and support has been provided to support te reo Māori initiatives since the 1980s. However, the Crown also acknowledged in Te Ture mō te Reo Māori the detrimental effects of its past policies and practices that have, over the generations, failed to protect and promote actively the Māori language and encourage its use by iwi and Māori.
The Crown is now actively committed to working in partnership with iwi and Māori to continue to protect and promote this taonga, the Māori language, for future generations.