Milestones: Movement to support the revitalisation of te reo

Did you know that the 1972 petition to bring te reo back into New Zealand schools was organised by Hana Te Hemara (Te Atiawa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngai Tahu; 1940 – 1999). A small group of activists presented a petition to parliament from 30,000 New Zealanders asking the government to teach Māori language in schools. Ten years later Māori language champions marched to parliament again, calling for te reo to be made an official language in its own land.

Maori Language Commission logo - snipped from websiteThe Māori Language Act (1987) not only declared Māori to be an official language of New Zealand but also established the Māori Language Commission (later Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori). The Māori Language Act 2016 had established Te Mātāwai to represent and support language revitalisation among Māori, iwi and communities. Responsibility for Crown-funded grants for revitalisation (such as the Mā te Reo fund) was transferred to Te Mātāwai. Founding board members included Sir Tīmoti Karetū, Sir Kīngi Matutaera Ihaka, Dame Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira, Anita Moke and Dr. Ray Harlow. Founding board chair, Sir Kingi Ihaka, came up with the name indicating that a rope that binds us all together is our language. Dame Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira created the logo that shows a traditionally woven rope that is still being constructed. In 2021 Te Wiki o te Reo Māori was held Monday 13th through Sunday 19th September. A virtual Māori Language Moment - where New Zealanders can celebrate te reo from wherever they are - was held on Tuesday 14th September at 12pm. Māori Language Week celebrates the presentation of the Māori Language Petition to parliament on the 14th September 1972. It has been marked every year since 1975. Te Wānanga o Aotearoa offers free lessons and is working toward the goal of having 1 million speakers of te reo Māori by 2040.  Below are milestones adapted from the Stories of Te Reo website.

1847. Education Ordinance Act sets English as the predominant, normal language of New Zealand schools. Schools that from the beginning of colonial rule had taught in te reo now gradually banned it, and children are punished for speaking Māori.

1867. The Native Schools Act provided for state schools in Māori communities with lessons taught in English.

1894. A vast majority of Māori school children (estimated at 90%) are still native speakers of te reo. However, the Education Ordinance Act makes school compulsory for Māori children. The curriculum is predominantly vocational in preparation for manual labor and which included the mandatory use of English. If caught speaking te reo the children could be physically assaulted. Parents, to protect their children, stop speaking te reo to them.

1913. Sir Apirana Ngata speaks te reo without an interpreter present, and the Speaker rules that MPs who can speak English must if they can. This became the rule of the house for most of the 1900s. By 1920 interpreters are no longer employed by Parliament - Māori speaking MPs are expected to translate their own speeches immediately after delivering them.

1928. A series of radio programmes focused on improving te reo prounciation is launched. In 1929 Bishop Frederick Bennett, the first Māori to be appointed an Anglican bishop, broadcasts a 20 minute talk in te reo. 

1930. The Teachers Federation attempts to introduce te reo into the school curriculum, however their plan is blocked by the Director of Education who argues that “the natural abandonment of the native tongue involves no loss to the Māori.” By 1933 the last of the newspapers written in te reo stop publishing.

1940. With nearly 90% of the Māori population living in rural areas, RNZ broadcast weekly 15 minute news bulletins about World War II and the Māori Battallion entirely in te reo. Government uses te reo to recruit soldiers. The 28th Māori Battalion use te reo in military communications to evade enemy forces.

1951. The Māori Women's Welfare League is founded to support families moving into cities where te reo is rarely heard and often persecuted. Māori veterans (with a wartime mortality rate 50% higher than other battalions) aren't offered the same benefits as Pākehā and refused service in many RSAs and hotels. Most Māori children can no longer speak te reo - thousands are placed in state institutions, cut off from their whānau, culture and language. By 1960 over 75% of Māori cannot speak te reo. In 1954 Te Huinga Rangatahi, Māori Students Association, is formed to support the needs of tertiary students.

1964. NZ Broadcasting Corporation set up a Māori programmes department.

1970. Te Reo Māori Society forms to revitalise te reo. Based at Victoria University in Wellington, most members are students and academic teaching staff. In 1971 Ngā Tamatoa, a Māori sovereignty activism movement, is launched at Auckland University. Both Ngā Tamatoa and Te Reo Māori Society begin mobilising support for language revitalisation, circulating a nationwide petition for te reo to be taught in schools. More than 33,000 sign the petition. In 1973 Brian McDonald, an Auckland student, started up a Māori newspaper "Rongo" with the help of Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, John Miller and others.

1974. 14 September becomes Māori Language Day: marking the anniversary of the presentation of the Māori Language Petition the year before. In 1975 this is replaced with Māori Language Week, and the Whakatupuranga Rua Mano language strategy is launched by Ngāti Raukawa, Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Toa. It was estimated that only 5% of Māori children can speak te reo. By 1979 Te Ātaarangi immersion language learning method is created.

1982. A 2 minute te reo news show airs nightly - the first TV show in te reo. It will later become Te Karere.

1984. Telephone operator Naida Glavish is demoted from her public service telephone operator after refusing to stop greeting callers with "Kia ora." She gains public support and her stand becomes a watershed moment in the use of te reo in the public domain. Te Māori exhibition opens in New York to critical acclaim and this international recognition changes how New Zealanders see Māori language and culture.

1985. The first kura kaupapa, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani Waititi, opens in West Auckland. Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo Māori lodge the landmark Māori Language Claim WAI11 with the Waitangi Tribunal, arguing that te reo is a taonga the Crown has failed to protect. The next year the Tribunal finds in favour of WAI11 claimants and declares te reo a taonga.

1987. The Māori Language Act makes te reo Māori an official language of New Zealand. The Māori Language Commission is established and inaugural board members name it Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, the rope that binds the language: each iwi making up the individual strands of the rope. Te Upoko o te Ika, first Māori radio station, and Waka Huia, a landmark hour-long archival documentary TV show, airs.

1995. Te Taura Whiri declared 1995 to be Māori Language Year.

1999. Dame Hinewehi Mohi sings the national anthem in te reo at the Rugby World Cup.

2008. Google Māori launched during Māori Language Week at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

2012. Waitangi Tribunal finds the Crown's early childhood education system failed kōhanga and breached Treaty principles of partnership and equity.

2015. Digital versions of Māori language newspapers published between 1842-1933 are made publicly available in Papers Past published by the National Library. By 1917 Te Ahu o te Reo research, following up on NZCER's 40-year-old research, announces that in some places where no intergenerational transmission was occurring in the 1970s, children are once again using te reo Māori at home with their whānau. Auckland Transport announces all Auckland trains announcements will be bilingual: in Māori and English - and bus announcements by 2018 - and Air NZ by 2019.

2019. Nearly 1000 Māori place names are made official including 307 now including macrons such as Taupō, Whakatāne and Tūrangi. Te reo launched as a language in Microsoft Translator.

2022. The first Matariki public holiday is held - two decades after Te Taura Whiri first called for one. Stats NZ release data showing 30% of New Zealanders can speak more than a few phrases of te reo, 8% are fluent, 25% of Māori speak te reo as a first language, and 3 in 5 people think te reo should be taught in all primary schools.


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