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Unesco NZ Urges Support For Maori Language

Unesco NZ Urges Support For Maori Language

UNESCO NZ is urging all New Zealanders to support efforts to revitalise the Maori language.

This week is Maori Language Week, Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, and this year is the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage.

UNESCO NZ Culture Sub Commission chair John Mohi says the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, for which UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) has responsibility, aims to raise awareness of the importance of cultural heritage and to stimulate countries to undertake significant activities and measures to safeguard their heritage.

“There is no room for complacency in New Zealand – although more people are learning Maori, the language is still considered to be in a precarious state and this is an issue for all New Zealanders because this language is unique to our country,” Mr Mohi says.

“If a language disappears a whole body of knowledge and ideas disappears because every language reflects a unique world-view with its own value systems, philosophy and cultural features.”

UNESCO has taken a lead role in safeguarding and preserving cultural heritage for over 50 years – more recently attention has focused on the importance of local and indigenous knowledge as a resource for promoting cultural diversity and social and economic development. Language is central to the preservation of traditional knowledge because it is through language that cultural identify is conveyed to future generations.

New Zealand is not alone in confronting these issues. Of the 6000 to 7000 languages spoken throughout the world, some 3000 are now in danger. While some languages are dying out, in some places efforts to revitalise minority languages are having success as can be seen, for example, with the Welsh language in Wales and the Catalan language in Spain.

“We must ensure that New Zealand’s revitalisation of the Maori language in New Zealand is an international success story,” Mr Mohi says.

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO has produced an information kit for media on the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage 2002, which provides background information on cultural heritage and United Nations efforts in this regard, such as the World Heritage Lists. It also provides information about some of the cultural heritage activities taking place in New Zealand which could provide angles for stories about the Year and the concept of cultural heritage preservation. This Kit is available by email or post from: or UNESCO NZ, PO Box 1666, Wellington
Tel: (04) 499 1004

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