14 Sep 2017

Te Reo every day 'not just one week'

6:51 am on 14 September 2017

Forty-five years after the Māori Language Petition was presented to Parliament, New Zealand still has a long way to go, a former activist group member says.

Ngā Tama Toa members on the steps of parliament.

Members of Ngā Tamatoa on the steps of Parliament in 1972 Photo: Dominion Post Collection / Alexander Turnbull Library

Members of Ngā Tamatoa, with support from Victoria University's Te Reo Māori Society, presented the 30,000 signatures on 14 September 1972.

It was a catalyst for Māori Language Day, which has since been lengthened to Te Wiki o te Reo Māori.

Ngā Tamatoa member Toro Waaka said he remembered how the fight for the language felt 45 years ago.

"There was a lot of anti-Māori sentiment, even from Māori. They even attacked us for causing problems between them and their European friends.

"It wasn't an easy thing trying to break the mould of institutional racism I suppose."

The development of kura kaupapa, kōhanga reo and other organisations promoting Te Reo were a testament to those years of struggle, he said.

But Mr Waaka said Te Reo should be compulsory in schools and children needed to be taught a lot more about the Treaty of Waitangi.

Ministry of Education figures show that last year 1000 mainstream schools offered Te Reo as part of their curriculum, up 43 from 2015.

Mr Waaka said that was still not good enough.

"There are some positive signs that there is a mind shift out there in some quarters, but at the same time they would recognise that very little has changed."

Another member of Ngā Tamatoa, Tame Iti, agreed, and said Te Reo still needed to have a greater presence in Aotearoa.

"It could be better but at least now you have TV and Te Reo Māori Week. But Te Reo Māori Week should be an everyday event, not just for one week."

A recent symposium at Victoria University sought to recapture these conversations and discuss what exactly Aotearoa has achieved since the petition.

Event organiser and university lecturer Vini Olsen-Reeder said the conversation about Te Reo needed to change.

"We need to stop talking about Te Reo as being a dying language. Yes, we've got work to do, but also we're in this amazing space now where we've got resource, we've got people [and] we've got all of this stuff in behind us to help us really make a good go of it."

A hikoi to remember the Māori Language Petition is being held in Wellington on Thursday, starting at Victoria University and ending on the steps of Parliament.