14 Sep 2015

Justice calls for places dedicated to Te Reo

9:02 pm on 14 September 2015

High Court Justice Joe Williams is calling for the creation of places or districts dedicated to speaking Te Reo Maori.

Today marks 44 years since the first Maori Language Day which in turn spurred a petition a year later which lead to Te Reo being taught in schools.

The Maori Language Commission commemorated those events in Wellington with a public discussion with Maori language academic Lee Smith and Justice Joe Williams.

The Te Reo Society worked with Nga Tamatoa and Te Huinga Rangatahi in 1970 towards the first Maori Language Day, which was held primarily in Wellington on 14 September 1971.

Founding member of the society Mr Smith said it gave the group a boost to push forward with a petition.

"All the petition was saying is that we are petitioning the Crown to offer Maori language courses in New Zealand schools for those who want it.

"That whole year from '71 to '72, the actual presentation of the petition, was devoted to collecting signatures up and down the motu."

The petition gathered 30,000 signatures, and compelled the new Government in 1972 to introduce the teaching of Te Reo Maori in primary and secondary schools.

By 1975 Maori Language Day had been extended to a week.

Prime Minister John Key earlier this year dismissed an idea by a student that Maori Language Week be extended to a month.

Justice Williams, who served as Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court, and as Chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal, said the focus should shift to Maori language "places".

"They could be places throughout New Zealand where the Maori language is seen as a regular part of community intercourse, community discourse and discussion, so that bilingual signs would be expected, families would be supported to speak in Maori in their homes, and the language would be valued in the districts."

He said if there was such a place, he would move to it and live there.

Justice Williams said Crown initiatives to revitalise Te Reo had failed, and said it was up to iwi to come up with innovative ideas to keep the language alive.

"Examples that have born extraordinary fruits have been examples that began amongst Maori communities, and then got supported and funding by the government in due course.

"Whether you talk about kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, wananga Maori movement, whether you talk about Maori radio stations and even Maori television."

The tumuaki or chief executive of Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Maori, Ngahiwi Apanui, said it was there to help those iwi and Maori community initiatives.

"We are looking at great ideas that are coming out of the community and great initiatives that are coming from the community and supporting those to ensure they are getting the right traction.

"The obvious issue for us, and I think for iwi too, is the red tape so we're looking at what we're doing within the whare here to ensure that iwi are consumed with the task that they have to do, rather than the red tape."

Maori academic Lee Smith, said he was concerned that these days, most learners think the language used by Maori broadcasters is the epitome of te reo Maori.

"I say hang on, look at our own old people."

Mr Smith wants to see kaumatua used in language tests, wananga and kura kaupapa.

"Kaumatua and kuia have such diversity, a range of styles of speaking language, so its not only academic or a news genre sort of Maori language. They've got heaps of experience to draw upon and I do think they are underutilised."

Both Mr Smith and Justice Williams spoke at a public discussion for Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Maori today.