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Māori Language Policy

New Zealand Māori Council: Media statement on Māori Language Policy

As the Minister of Māori Development takes the final steps to establish Te Mātāwai as the new and innovative body to lead the Māori Language strategy, the New Zealand Māori Council congratulates the 13 appointees to the Board who have been selected from a wide and competitive field, and calls for an innovative approach to strategy development.

For its part the New Zealand Māori Council considers the restoration of Māori group housing should be recognised as a necessary step for the revival of Te Reo Māori as a language of everyday communication.

Despite revitalisation efforts the language is considered to be endangered and unlikely to survive as a language for ordinary conversation unless it is more often spoken to children in homes and within communities where Māori is spoken most of the time. Creating Māori housing clusters, with preference to those committed to speaking te reo, should constitute an important facet of a Māori Language strategy, says the Council.

Customarily, Māori lived in papakainga in rural areas where te reo was the primary language but the rural papakainga could not be maintained due to legislation like the Town and Country Planning Act 1952 and Maori Housing policies both of which required that Māori move to urban areas in order to build with State Advances or Māori Housing loans. At about this time Māori transitioned from 80% rural to 80% urban within a generation, and those moving to urban areas were pepper potted throughout so that the language had little chance of survival.

The main problem was that people could not rebuild in the papakainga because of planning laws requiring the sole ownership of a minimum farming unit to build in rural areas. Now the new Māori Language Act contains an acknowledgement that past Crown actions and policies contributed to the loss of the Māori language. The usual reference in this context is to monolingual education policies and official publications. In fact however, in the Council’s view, the main cause of language loss was the collapse of the papakainga due to planning laws and government pepper potting policies in providing housing loans or state accommodation in urban areas.

The Council calls on government to restore the balance with state assisted subdivisions and buildings, or home purchases to create group housing, particularly near marae or other cultural facilities, with preference for those committed to recreating Māori speaking communities.


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