One million speaking Māori by 2040 'within our reach' - Flavell

updated By Stefan Dimitrof

In 2019 the government made a commitment that one million people in New Zealand would be able to speak te reo Māori.

That came after 35 years ago today the Māori language was made an official language of Aotearoa through the enacting of the Māori Language Act 1987.

Te Ururoa Flavell (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Te Arawa), the former Māori development minister who is now Whakaata Māori pou tikanga, said one million people would take a lot of work but it was good for the government to have a goal.

“It’s a huge goal but it’s within our reach.”

When the act was first passed, the Māori language commission Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori was founded as the kaitiaki of that mission with the responsibility to revitalise the Māori language.

The Māori Language Act 2016 later replaced the first act to affirm the status of te reo, as the indigenous language of Aotearoa protected under Te Tiriti O Waitangi and reinforced the commitment between the Crown and Māori, to work together to revitalise te reo Māori.

Flavell said the movement came at a time when Māori didn’t think that there was enough being done.

“There was a recognition of course that the education system was a part of that.”

Flavell said the 1972 Reo Māori petition that was put forward was hugely influential in making the point that the Māori language was in trouble, highlighting the Māori language and pushing governments to honour Treaty responsibilities.  

He said the petition recognised te reo Māori was a taonga and definitely needed to be protected.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori CEO, Ngahiwi Apanui says a new program will be released during Te Wiki o te Reo Māori this year that will bring to light more understanding and knowledge 50 years since the pivotal petition was presented to parliament. 

"Ahakoa ngā kōrero nui i tīmata mai ai te whawhai i reira, kāore anō te tokomaha kia kite i taua tāonga. Nā, koina te Tiriti o Waitangi o te reo Māori. Heoi anō, hei te wiki o te reo Māori ka āhei tātou ki te haere ki reira ki te mihi ki te whakaaro nui, te wairua hoki o te petihana."
(Even though people know about the fight, they haven't seen this taonga. And that's the Treaty for Te Reo. So on Maori Language week we will go there and acknowledge the Petition and its significance.)

Teachers required to achieve the goal

Apanui also agrees the lofty goal of 1 million reo speakers is gettable, but needs a significant increase in reo Māori teachers in the country's schools.

"E mea ana ētahi me here ngā tamariki katoa kia ako i te reo Māori ki roto i ngā kura tuatahi. Engari ko te kī a te hekeretari o te Mātauranga i roto i ngā Kura Kaupapa, i roto i ngā kura reo Māori rānei, he 3000 ngā kaiako e hiahiatia ana. I roto i ngā kura Pākehā, he 30,000 ngā kaiako e hiahiatia ana kia rata ai te hiahia nui o te iwi whānui ki tō tātou reo.
(Some are calling for reo Māori to be compulsory in schools. But what the Education secretary has said is Kura Kaupapa and Māori language kura will need another 3000 teachers, while 30000 teachers are needed in mainstream kura to meet the demand for our reo.)

"Ehara i te mahi māmā te whakaako i ā tātou tamariki. Ko āku tamariki he whawhai i ia ata kia haere rātou ki te kura. Ko ngā kaiako kei te whakangahau i āku tamariki i te kura. Nā reira me kimi tangata pērā, e aroha ana ki te tamaiti, ki te kura, ki te ako, engari e aroha ana ki tō tātou reo."
(It's not an easy thing to teach our children. My children fight at the table nearly every day before school. However, it's their teachers who care for them during the day. We need people like that who love the school, students and the language. That's a start.)

To help whānau and individuals learn te reo Māori, Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori has launched a new website, reomāori.co.nz, with resources available for those on their reo journey.