HRC to stop hearing individual complaints on use of te reo Māori

2:19 pm on 17 September 2021

The Human Rights Commission will no longer consider individual complaints over the use of te reo Māori or the term Pākehā.

No caption

Photo: Screenshot / Human Rights Commission

It has announced that in future only a standard response will be provided.

Chief executive Rebecca Elvy said the commission does not offer its resolution service for these complaints.

"The Human Rights Act sets out what types of discrimination are unlawful. The use of te reo does not fit the criteria," she said.

"So, this aligns with our legislation, and better directs our resources."

Elvy told Midday Report that the commission gets a persistent number of complaints about the use of te reo Māori each week.

"It's usually only single figures each week but sometimes it's more or less."

She said this decision is about signalling their respect and committment to helping te reo flourish in Aotearoa.

"We know how easy a language can be lost. I think it's Professor Rawinia Higgins that has said it's lost within a generation; it takes three generations to regain.

"I do understand that for those who don't speak the reo I do understand that's not a nice feeling. My encouragement to them would be have a go.

"There's heaps of great resources online, there's apps, local libraries have resources. Try it out, it's fun, it's a beautiful reo and I really encourage people to find out a bit about it and get curious."

Past complaints inaccurately suggested the use of the word Pākehā was derogatory, and that forms and greetings in te reo discriminated against Pākehā.

Te reo Māori is an official language in Aotearoa New Zealand, and all indigenous people also have a fundamental right to self-determination, and the protection of their language, culture, and heritage.

The commission said was especially the case in Aotearoa, where He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi have affirmed the inherent right of tangata whenua to Tino Rangatiratanga.

The Office of Human Rights Proceedings is an independent office within the commission. Individuals can apply for legal representation there if their complaint has not been resolved at the commission.

Director of Human Rights Proceedings Michael Timmins said his office will not be accepting applications for legal representation about this. "I tautoko this kaupapa from the Commission."

State-sanctioned attempts to assimilate Māori into British culture through the removal of language have a long and documented history in Aotearoa.

For more than 100 years Māori children were beaten and traumatised in native schools for speaking their reo. However, by 1987 change had begun and te reo Māori was recognised as an official language in Aotearoa.

While the language remains endangered, its use has grown with many people believing it should be celebrated as well as protected, as illustrated by the widespread engagement with Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori.

Today's announcement is in line with other public bodies such as the Broadcasting Standards Authority, which announced in March it would cease hearing complaints regarding the use of te reo.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs