22 Aug 2019

Word limits for Māori translations on candidate profiles labelled 'institutional racism'

10:13 am on 22 August 2019

Strict word limits for Māori translations of local body election candidate profiles is a form of "institutional racism" and should be changed, a candidate says.

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Napier businessman James Crow, who is running for the city council and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board Photo: Photo / Supplied

Napier businessman James Crow, who is running for the city council and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board, was told the te reo version of his candidate profile statement, that appears in voting papers, was too long after being translated from English.

Election rules state profile statements in English and Māori must both only be 150 words long.

This failed to take into account that te reo had a word count approximately 30 percent longer when translated from English, Mr Crow said.

"To me that felt like there were some clear blind spots or possibly some institutional racism around the translation of te reo from English."

He ended up chopping 50 words out of his English version to comply with another election rule that both versions had to be the same.

It didn't make sense and was potentially unfair to both languages, Mr Crow said.

"Even if I reduce my English to allow for the extra te reo [words], I'm then dumbing down my English version.

"Either way we're applying some sort of bias. Let's just give both languages a fair crack with the same information," he said.

Gisborne District mayor Meng Foon

Meng Foon. Photo: New Zealand Government

Incoming Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said the 150 word limit had been a source of frustration throughout his 18-year career in local body politics.

The former Gisborne Mayor, who was fluent in te reo Māori, said it was "impossible" to come up with the same message in Māori when translated from English within the same word limit.

"There should be an allocation or a consideration that there should be more words in Māori for the number of English words," he said.

It was an issue he would raise with the government when he started in his new role with the Human Rights Commission on Monday.

"Languages are different and it needs to be taken into account the extra words that are needed in Māori for translations."

AUT Māori language researcher Valance Smith agreed.

"I wouldn't necessarily say this is institutional racism or bias ... but it is certainly non-sensical.

"Translations in te reo Māori shouldn't be confined to 150 words. What's more important is that the translation explains the spirit and the essence of the English submission."

Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Maori Development and Local Government being interviewed in te reo Maori by Maori TV.

Nanaia Mahuta. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

However, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta was not convinced there was a need to change the rules.

"This is the first time it's been raised as an issue to me," she said.

"I do have some sympathy around the way in which a translation can be accurately done to reflect what is said in English. But it can be done," Ms Mahuta said.

"Often Māori is a lot more simplified in terms of expressing things in English which is a lot more wordy."

Anyone who believed the translation rules were a problem had an opportunity to make a submission to Parliament's review of the local body elections after they were held, she said.

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