Compulsory Te Reo Māori in schools within 5 years - Foon

By Will Trafford

The race relations commissioner Meng Foon is calling for compulsory te reo Māori classes to be introduced in schools within five years.

A fluent te reo speaker himself, Foon says he wrote to the education minister Chris Hipkins and political party leaders last year saying such a move would address the effects of colonisation and help New Zealand understand the treaty as a constitutional document.

"The normalisation of te reo Māori would help address issues around Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the destructive effects of colonisation and structural racism by building empathy, understanding and ultimately allyship," Foon said.

Foon says protection of te reo Māori is enshrined within Te Tiriti as a taonga and says Aotearoa, New Zealand is also a signatory to international agreements which require the revitalisation of the language.

"The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also includes the right to revitalise, use and develop language for future generations," he said.

Foon says his personal experience learning Te Reo Māori has helped him “build relationships within the communities I try to serve, and it has also assisted in connecting many diverse cultures and Māori."

“It is all about building a socially cohesive country where everyone is on the same page and unified in our approach to indigenous culture,” he said.

Foon says he understands resourcing in terms of teachers with te reo is an issue, but says a five year strategy to up skill current teachers and get people with the language into the profession is workable.

“We have a generation of Māori speakers coming through – the talent pool is there, we just have to make teaching a more attractive proposition.”

Foon praised the government's commitment to Māori history in schools, but says work to integrate all of Te Ao Māori is required.

"Their strategy lacks teeth in terms of tangible and urgent action," he said.