The landmark te reo Māori Waitangi Tribunal claim asserted the right of Māori to speak their native tongue - but now a member of the legal team for the case - Justice Joe Williams - says it's the value of the language for all that will save it.
It was part of a kōrero at the National Library in Wellington on Wednesday on the revitalisation of te reo Māori, which has been documented in Te Mana o Te Reo Māori, an interactive web series laying out the history of the Māori language from the 1200s to today, and the people who championed it.
It is part of a wider digital storytelling programme, Te Tai, a collaboration between the Māori Language Commission and The Ministry of Culture and Heritage aiming to increase the understanding of Treaty settlements and their impact.
Piripi Walker (Ngāti Raukawa) was secretary of the ropū, Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau, that brought forward the te reo Māori Waitangi Tribunal claim, Wai 11 in 1985.
He was also the founder of the first Māori radio station, Te Upoko o te Ika in Wellington which began broadcasting in 1987.
Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau were led by Huirangi Waikerepuru, who died in April this year and was described by Walker as "a fantastic orator, a true native speaker of the Taranaki dialect, raised in the Parihaka tradition".
Walker said there was "some scepticism" about the small ropū taking such claim over te reo Māori, and there was intense debate during the two-year preparation for the hearing.
"At one early meeting, one of our leaders quite rightly challenged us flying ahead for preparations.
"We acted as if it could only be a good thing to have the language and rights before the tribunal.
"This leader asked us 'what if the claim fails' - he was anxious the Tribunal might declare that speakers had only limited rights conferred on them by the Treaty of Waitangi, that the Crown had only enshrined very limited rights to use the reo in the past, and the limited status might be seen as the status quo.
"Huirangi stood to answer saying, 'Ahakoa pēhea kei te marama tātou kei te whakapono ki tātou ki tātou kaupapa' - no matter how the claim is tested, we are clear in our minds about the grounds for the claim and we believe totally in it.
"He believed that this clarity satisfied the Māori test for making it a good kaupapa, the rights long denied needed to be traversed for the tribunal and let the future take care of matters after that."
The group worked hard to finance their legal challenge at the Waitangi Tribunal, seeking a $5000 overdraft from BNZ which was granted by a bank manager called Russell, who said it "looked like important work".
Russell asked that in repayment for granting the application, that Walker go to the bank and speak only in te reo Māori, bringing with him cards that explained it was his constitutional right to speak te reo Māori.
Walker said the right for te reo Māori to be used in government departments, local governments and public bodies, as recommended by the Waitangi Tribunal in response to the claim, still has not been achieved.
"We have more or less the same level of recognition that we had in the 1953 Māori Affairs Act, despite the act of '87, despite the act of 2016 - the revision of the Māori Language Act - the claim did not succeed on Māori language rights.
"The 2016 revision of the Māori Language Act did not implement any of the main recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal on rights to language."
Justice Joe Williams (Ngāti Pukenga, Waitaha, Tapuika), who sits on the Supreme Court, was part of the legal team for the Wai 11 claim.
He was working as a junior law lecturer at the time and said while he could not make it to all the hui because he had to teach, he remembers fondly the kōrero at hui held after the hearings at Kokiri marae, where kaumātua would tell stories, including the likes of Sir James Henare who talked about his time in the 28th Māori Battalion.
"It was exquisite Māori, perfectly modulated, not a piece of grammar out of place and I was just blown away, I had never heard someone speak Māori like that... and there it was, it was just dripping off his [Henare] tongue like honey," Williams said.
"I'll never forget those stories - they're tattooed on my heart."
He said on reflection, the claim should have been about more than just te reo being the right of Māori.
"What we've discovered is the value of the reo for all, and that power is what will save it because it's no longer other, it's us."
He said there had been major changes in how the language was received since the Wai 11 claim was heard.
"We're not fighting for the survival of te reo just for Māori anymore, we're fighting for the survival of te reo for New Zealanders.
"That's shown by the fact that you have to queue for a Māori class because all the Pākehās have beaten you - that might be a little annoying for some but in my view, that's an extraordinary outcome because in 1986 there was no way that was even imaginable."
Williams said another major shift had been in the courts, with a District Court ruling during Māori Language Week of 2012 that the intros and outros of the court would be bilingual.
"When the reo walks in the room, te ao Māori walks in the room and that changes the law. I know it's subtle, I know it's not revolutionary but once you get a different flavour in the water, stuff changes and I think we are in that process of hobbling towards in an ad hoc way... yet we are walking there organically."
Williams said the next step in reviving the language should be te reo districts.