Crown to admit fault in Māori Language Bill

10:00 pm on 5 April 2016

Changes are to be made to the Māori Language Bill, which will acknowledge that the Crown has contributed to the decline in Māori language.

Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell

Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell made an amendment to the Māori Language Bill tonight, but said the change was not an attempt to address all historic grievances around te reo Māori.

Mr Flavell said he hoped the statement would go some way to acknowledging the pain and loss suffered as a result of successive Crown policies that had denied and suppressed his people's right to use te reo Māori.

"Māori are familiar with the painful memories recalled by our grandparents' and parents' generations who were discouraged, and in some cases physically abused, for speaking te reo Māori at school or in public places."

Prime Minister John Key said the change was recognition that the Crown had a legal obligation to preserve the language.

He said language in the amendment mirrored other bills where the Crown apologised for its past actions.

"Where we have effectively recognised the shortfall from the Crown in terms [of] preservation of the language, so some people will say it's an apology, I would just say it's consistent with what we've historically always done."

Green Party Māori development spokesperson Marama Davidson said an acknowledgement was good, but an apology would be better.

"I've talked often about my grandmother who was beaten in school, her reo was beaten out of her - that in effect negated te reo for the following three generations of us, all the beating of one person.

"I'm happy [the acknowledgement] is part of the bill, an apology is long overdue."

Labour Māori Development spokesperson Kelvin Davis said his party had already drafted an apology to include in the bill, and he thought the acknowledgement had come about as Mr Flavell came under pressure to include something along those lines in the Māori Language Bill.

He said the reo was a taonga which was almost lost completely.

"Both my grandparents were fluent Māori speakers, I'm told that my grandmother's Māori was better than her English and yet their five sons can't string a word together, so they were the forgotten or the missing generation in terms of te reo acquisition."

The committee stages of the bill were due to be debated on Tuesday evening, which was when the amendment would be added.

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