Native Affairs Summer Series - Catalan Experts - Make te reo Māori compulsory

By Renee Kahukura-Iosefa

Ever wonder what Aotearoa would be like if te reo Māori was compulsory? Mandatory in all schools and for official use.  If Catalonia in Spain is anything to go by, it will be a truly uplifting experience.  More than four million people -  half the region’s population - now speak the Catalan language which was made compulsory only three decades ago. 

Last year Native Affairs spoke with Catalan language advocates who encouraged Aotearoa to follow the example of Catalonia by making te reo Māori compulsory here.

Catalonia is an autonomous province in Spain that includes the major city of Barcelona. It’s unique in Europe, governed by both Catalonia and Spain, with dual laws ruling the lives of those who live there.

In 1983 the Catalan government made the Catalan language compulsory in all public administrations, including schools and universities.

Now, over 4 million people speak Catalan, half the region’s population. And the language has been widely embraced throughout Catalonia.

Cristina Fons is a language activist who has been teaching Catalan for the past 25 years.

“I think that Catalan is very important, first because it is the language of the territory, of our ancestors, our tradition, and furthermore because we have a very rich history,” she says.

Cristina believes Aotearoa should follow the example of Catalonia by making te reo Māori compulsory.

She says, “I think that New Zealand has a rich cultural history. I think that you should stand for your freedom, your culture, your language and don't allow that any other culture pushes yours, because yours is as important as the others.  And nobody can't tell us that their culture is better than ours.”

Humberto Burcet , a Catalan language teacher, speaks nine languages and has a PhD in te reo Māori and Samoan.

He was taken aback that te reo Māori was not more widely spoken here when he visited New Zealand.

“I went to Aotearoa to learn the Māori language, Te Reo, and for me it was surprising when I see my kids here learning Catalan. They can go to the bus driver and ask them, 'How much is a ticket to go to the city?',” he says. 

“But, if I wanted to practice Māori language I couldn't go to the bus driver and say, "He aha te utu mō te tīkiti ki te tāone",  maybe he doesn’t understand me, even if he is Māori.”

Like Cristina, Humberto thinks there’s every reason te reo Māori should be compulsory in Aotearoa.

“I think this is a good point to make te reo Māori available to all people who want to learn it and to make it possible to use it outside the school.”