Te Marama o te Reo Māori

By Ellipsister, Co-Editor

At the beginning of last week – Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, we published a piece written by Matua Pem Bird. In that post he argued Te Taura Whiri (the Māori Language Commission) ought to consign Māori language week to the graveyard. If you didn’t read it, the argument he put forth was incredibly persuasive. In brief, he argued that a week was not long enough for language revitalisation and in the 40 years we’d been celebrating Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, that we weren’t getting the results we hoped for and bolder measures were needed for our language to both survive and thrive.

Now, I’m not a fluent speaker by any means. I have a very rudimentary vocabulary and can barely construct a sentence. That makes me one of the 80 percent (approx) of Māori who are unable to converse in our native language. It is mostly for this reason, that I am adamant and tautoko Matua’s argument that we must do more to strengthen our reo by taking bolder stances with our revitalisation rhetoric and strategies.

Suffice to say, I was incredibly proud of the young woman at Waiuku College who suggested to the Prime Minister the idea of a Māori language month:Te Marama o Te Reo Māori. But saddened that a PM, in 2015! would replicate the invalidating language of  the colonising (not so) past by relegating the value of our reo to effectively gimmick status as the best that we could hope for. As Bronwyn Campbell has argued [1]:

The success of colonisation required not only power and resources, but also the spiritual denial of the indigenous word

Given the PM’s answer and the history of suppression of our language, I (personally) was pleased to see Māori Party Co-Leader, Te Ururoa Flavell throw some shade on the PM’s comment saying something to the effect that ‘it’s boring having to speak English most of time’.

There was thankfully a lot of outrage at the PM’s comment and for good reason too. Te Reo Māori is the first language of this land and an official language of this country. It is protected under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and is a taonga tuku iho handed down to us from our tīpuna.

With full credit given to the young woman at Waiuku College, TV3’s Newsworthy has decided to take on Te Marama o Te Reo Māori. Additionally, Te Taura Whiri has also asserted that Māori language week is every week, reminding the public of the 50 phrases and 50 kupu to be introduced over 50 weeks as part of the reo strategy.

You have done something amazing kōtiro! By verbalising your thoughts, you changed the public narrative.  And in my view, it is a bold move like this and the footprints of rangatahi, that will step the path forward to strengthen our reo revitalsation. It is with your words, that the discussion on extending Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori received much needed attention to deprive the naysayers of their ‘its a gimmick mentality’, and to give hope and courage to our people to continue to fight for our indigenous word.


[1] Bronwyn Campbell “Te Tiriti o Waitangi: A Blueprint for the Future” in Huia Tomlins-Jahnke and Malcolm Mullholland (eds) Mana Tangata Politics of Empowerment (Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2011).