by Nathan Crombie
THE 2016 bilingual Te Pire mō Te Reo Māori/Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill and the iwi-led body Te Mātāwai are the latest lifelines thrown to what some say is a language teetering on the brink of oblivion.
The bill in April replaced the Māori Language Act 1987 and Te Mātāwai, which for the first time met on Tuesday, essentially gives backbone to a legislative attempt to rescue te reo Māori through whānau Māori, hapū and iwi.
Te Mātāwai will oversee the Māori Language Commission Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, the Māori broadcast funding agency Te Māngai Pāho, and Māori Television.
Te Mātāwai has 13 members, comprising seven appointed by iwi, four appointed by reo tukutuku (Māori language stakeholder) organisations, and two members appointed by the Minister for Māori Development.
Te Ururoa Flavell, co-leader of the Māori Party and Māori Development Minister, said the first Runanga Reo joint meeting between Te Mātāwai members and Crown Ministers will be held later this month.
The progress of the revised language strategy and the state of te reo Māori will be monitored via a Te Puni Kokiri metric titled the Matrix of Māori Language Vitality Indicators.
The changes come at a time when more Māori than ever are abandoning the language, and elders who speak te reo are dying without being replaced by younger native speakers.
nzhistory.net.nz understates the expiring arc of the language over the past 200 years as “one of ups and downs”.
At the opening of the 19th century te reo Māori was the predominant language spoken in Aotearoa New Zealand.
As more English speakers arrived, the Māori language was increasingly confined to Māori communities.
For the first 50 years of European settlement, te reo Māori was a common way of communicating.
Early settlers were dependent on Māori for many things and had to learn to speak the language to trade.
As more settlers arrived, the need grew for written Māori. In about 1814 missionaries first attempted to migrate the Māori language to the page.
Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University worked with the chief Hongi Hika and his junior relative Waikato to systematise the written language in 1820.
Literacy and expanded numeracy were both concepts Māori quickly pursued.
In the 1820s missionaries reported Māori all over the country were teaching each other to read and write, using materials such as charcoal and leaves, carved wood and the cured skins of introduced animals when no paper was available.
In 2006, according to nzhistory, just under half of Maori aged 65 or older could hold a conversation in Māori about everyday things, and a quarter of Māori aged 15 to 64 could hold a conversation.
Mr Flavell told Fairfax in April he wanted both Māori and non-Māori to take up te reo Māori.
“This bill is about everybody in this country and about making sure we save our language.”
The country was “warming slowly”, he said, citing as example the Māori national anthem being sung at international events.
Renditions of the anthem in te reo today contrast the 1999 outcry against Hinewehi Mohi singing the Māori version at a Rugby World Cup game in Twickenham.
Fears the language was dying were first raised in the middle of last century, and major initiatives launched from the 1980s rallied the language, which in 1987 was deemed an official in New Zealand alongside English and NZ Sign Language.
Te reo Māori tuition and promotion attracts $225 to $600 million annually of government funding and the best inter-generational efforts of some Māori to defend their native tongue.
Still the tide remains unturned.
The Waitangi Tribunal found in the 17 years to 2010, according to Newshub, the number of Maori children in Maori language schools had halved.
The tribunal that year issued a warning “that te reo Māori was approaching a crisis point”.
The tribunal recommended the language strategy be provided more resources and responsibility for the Māori language be vested in a single body with greater powers.
In 2011 Fairfax outlined how the language was threatened as well with the death of elders fluent in te reo Māori, according to then Maori Language Commissioner Erima Henare.
At the launch of Maori Language Week that year, Mrs Henare said the “level of fluency is decreasing (with the elders’ deaths), even though the number of Maori speakers is rising.”
That same year then Minister of Māori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples, assembled a group of Māori language revival experts to form Te Paepae Motuhake.
The expert panel reviewed the state language revival programmes and recommended improvements in their report Te Reo Mauri Ora.
The ministerial review recognised seven iwi dialectal regions and two urban centres where runanga-a-reo (language councils) would be established to control programmes and spending, according to Fairfax.
The plight of te reo Māori remained generally static according to the 2013 Census, which revealed the number of Māori who speak the language had fallen four points to 21 per cent of the population (about 125,000 speakers).
Also that year, Statistics New Zealand carried out the Te Kupenga survey of Māori about Māori well-being, according to Te Taura Whiti i te Reo Māori.
Some key findings were that 257,500 (55 per cent) of Māori adults had some ability to speak te reo Māori; that is, they were able to speak more than a few words or phrases in the language.
Te Kupenga came more than a decade after the Survey on the Health of the Māori Language in 2001 involving 5000 Māori respondents.
The latest Ministry of Social Development investigation into the state of te reo, The Social Report 2016 – Te pūrongo oranga tangata, found 21.3 percent of all Māori reported that they could hold a conversation in Māori about everyday things; a decrease from 23.7 percent in 2006 and 25.2 percent in 2001.
Of the 148,400 people (or 3.7 percent of the total New Zealand population) who could hold a conversation in Māori in 2013, 84.5 percent identified as Māori.
The Social Report recognised the proportion of Māori language speakers had declined markedly over the last century, particularly following the rapid urbanisation of the Māori population in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mr Flavell had earlier this year moved an amendment to the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill to acknowledge the Crown’s past Māori language policies and practices that had savaged generations of iwi and Māori.
“The Crown acknowledges it has contributed to the decline in Māori language and its previous actions have had a negative impact on our language and culture.
“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.”
Waitangi Tribunal claims Wai 11 and Wai 262 champion te reo Māori as a Treaty-protected taonga that was instead actively suppressed by successive New Zealand governments.
The fundamental components of a modern, Treaty-compliant Crown Māori language regime, according to the Waitangi Tribunal, include a genuine partnership with Māori, a Māori-speaking government, the provision of appropriate resources, and “wise” policy.
The Māori Language Strategy has a focus on five key results:
Te ako i te reo – increasing the number of whānau Māori (and other New Zealanders) who speak Māori
Te mana o te reo – increasing the status of the Māori language
Te kounga o te reo – increasing the quality of Māori language use and supporting iwi to retain their unique dialects
Te kōrerotanga i te reo – increasing the use of the Māori language among whānau Māori (and other New Zealanders) in everyday situations, in particular in the home
Te mārama pū ki te whakaora reo – increasing critical awareness about Māori language revitalisation.
Wairarapa te reo Māori courses include the 8-week rookie class Te Reo – Absolute Beginners in Masterton for $10 from Tuesday; the 8-week Te Reo – More than the basics course in Masterton for $10 from Tuesday; the 10-week Wairarapa REAP ACE Courses for $20 including Te Reo Māori Te Atārangi in Masterton from Wednesday; Te Reo Māori Te Atārangi in Greytown from Tuesday; Te Reo Māori Te Atārangi in Martinborough from Monday; the 8-week Te Reo Māori classes in Pāhiatua (afternoon or evening) for $10 from Tuesday, and evening waiata classes in Pāhiatua for $10 from Monday; and the 8-week Te Reo Māori Eketahuna Course for $10 from Monday. To book and for more information call Wairarapa REAP at 0800 WAIREAP or 06 377 1379.