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Looking After The Reo

Looking After The Reo

General debate speech in Parliament

MANA Leader and Member of Parliament for the Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira
Wednesday 5 May 2014

Way back in 1972, on September 14 1972 to be exact, a petition with more than 30,000 signatures was presented to parliament, spearheaded by the Te Reo Maori Society and Nga Tamatoa, calling for Te Reo Maori to be taught in schools. That petition led directly to the creation of Te Ra o Te Reo Maori, which later became Te Wiki o te Reo Maori, and to Maori being included in the school curriculum.

That love for the language also led, in the 1980s, to the establishment of the world-leading initiative to teach Maori to pre-school children that is the Kohanga Reo Movement, and from Kohanga we got Kura Kaupapa, and from Kura we got Wharekura, and eventually we saw the establishment of Te Wananga o Raukawa and Te Wananga o Aotearoa and Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi.

In fact, the 1980s was a big time for Te Reo Maori.

The Maori Language Claim was lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1985 by Huirangi Waikerepuru and Nga Kaiwhakapumau i te Reo Maori, which sought official recognition for Te Reo Maori in places as diverse as the courts, government departments, local authorities, and even Parliament itself, and for the reo to be made compulsory in schools, a claim widely supported from all corners of the Maori world.

The Tribunal ruled that the Crown had failed to protect the Maori language, and recommended that Te Reo Maori be legally recognised as an official language, that a statutory body be established to foster the use of Te Reo Maori, and that a broadcasting policy be formulated to help promote the language.

And in 1987 the Maori Language Act was passed, making Maori an official language, and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori was established to promote the use of Te Reo Maori as a “living language”.

Those initiatives were further enhanced by another claim led again by Huirangi Waikerepuru and Nga Kaiwhakapumau that the Māori Language Act had failed to address radio and television broadcasting, and a claim from Sir Graham Latimer and the NZ Māori Council calling on the Crown to recognise Maori interests in the radio spectrum.

The Crown opposed both claims and Maori were forced to take their case to the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and ultimately to the Privy Council where they won support for an amendment to the Broadcasting Act in 1993 to establish Te Mangai Paho to fund Maori language television and radio programmes. Today we have 21 Maori radio stations around the country, and Maori Television finally went to air on 28 March 2004.

But in case anyone thinks that things are all OK with the reo now, please note that just two years ago the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that government had breached the Treaty of Waitangi by systemically failing to fund and support Kohanga Reo’s Maori language strategy; that government should apologise for its failings; and that it should appoint an independent adviser to oversee an urgent programme to overhaul policy, increase participation, improve quality, increase funding, and provide the support necessary for the upgrade and maintenance of Kohanga facilities.

That’s just a snapshot of the last 40 years of the struggle that Maori have been through to get Te Reo Maori recognised and to get resources committed to keeping it alive.

And in all of that, it’s worth noting that the struggle was led by those who cared for the reo, those who had a deep and abiding love for the reo, and who did so at great personal cost to themselves and their families. Many of those early pioneers either couldn’t even speak the reo or were themselves just taking their first tentative steps along the pathway of Maori language revitalisation, and they were often castigated by older more conservative native Maori language speakers for daring to lead the charge for the reo, but their passion and their commitment and their refusal to take a backward step marked them out as true champions of the language.

And that’s the reason why MANA opposes the government’s plan to take the language away from those who care for it, and to give it to those who would corporatise it; a plan led by the Maori Party to scrap Te Taura Whiri and Te Mangai Paho, and put the language in the hands of corporate iwi leaders.

And we oppose that plan because the grim reality is that iwi leaders are simply not capable of managing such an important taonga.

They weren’t there when the people needed them to lead the fight for the reo, their corporate statements speak glowingly of the importance of the reo but their financial statements suggest they have other priorities, their lack of management capacity as a national provider was highlighted by their inability to win the Whanau Ora contract even though it had been drafted for them by the Minister’s advisers, and most importantly, when given the opportunity to finally provide a lead for Maoridom on the one issue that has affected all iwi over the past 3 years, water, they let their tribal self-interest stop them from even being able to agree to work together.

MANA says that instead of killing off Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Maori and Te Mangai Paho, government should actually be increasing their funding and strengthening their capacity to drive language initiatives across the public sector, including making Maori compulsory in schools; and creating pathways for those who love the reo, are bold enough to take the opportunities to grow it, and are actively engaged in helping it to flourish at the flaxroots, so that they might nurture and grow Te Reo Maori in a way that is meaningful for our children, and a vibrant and positive reality for our mokopuna.

It’s what the petitioners wanted, it’s what the claimants wanted, it’s what the whanau wanted then and the whanau want now, and for all those reasons it’s what MANA is proud to support as well.


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