He reo ōkawa te reo Māori mai I te tau kotahi mano, iwa rau, waru tekau mā whitu. Engari, ka kī te taura whiri I te reo Māori, he pānekeneke tonu te reo.
The Māori Language Commission, Te Taura Whiri, says that despite being an official language of New Zealand since 1987, te reo Māori is still very vulnerable.
Today, only 3.7 per cent of New Zealanders speak te reo, that’s only one in four Māori people and less than 2% of our country's non-Māori population speaking te reo. Despite those statistics and a turbulent history, support for the future of te reo is strong.
Te reo has been in the headlines a lot this year. In April the new incarnation of the Māori Language bill, te pire mō te reo Māori, passed through Parliament. The bill, a landmark in the history of te reo, set up Te Matawai, a new entity responsible for fostering the Māori language at an iwi and community level. The bill also recognises te reo as a taonga under the guardianship of Māori and iwi, and ensures that the Crown will work closely with Māori to actively promote te reo for future generations.
The real poignancy at the heart of the bill is the Crown’s acknowledgement that it failed to protect the Māori language in the past. It was a bittersweet moment for many, but especially those in the public gallery who sang and cheered as the bill was passed. Unlike any other legislation in New Zealand, te pire mō te reo Māori is written in te reo and English, and specifies that the Māori version has precedence if there are conflicting interpretations.
With a lead up of that magnitude, it’s no surprise that the inaugural hikoi mō te reo, walk for te reo, was such a success. Over four thousand people took their passion for te reo to the streets of Wellington, walking from Parliament to Te Papa for the official launch. The Māori Language Commission says that the motivation for the parade was to bring te reo into the headlines and reach new audiences, and it certainly succeeded. A number of Te Tumu Paeroa staff joined the hikoi.
Basil Tapuke, General Manager of Trusts at Te Tumu Paeroa, said ‘The Māori language is an incredibly important part of Māori culture. I was so pleased to see our people representing Te Tumu Paeroa and our support for te reo.’
Māori Language Week is just one effort to revive New Zealand’s indigenous language and get New Zealanders celebrating and using te reo. The theme for this year’s Te Wiki o te Reo Māori is akina te reo - behind you all the way. It promotes the use of te reo to support, inspire and cheer people on. It was an apt theme for the biggest Māori Language Week event to date and a good reminder that everyone from politicians to actors and athletes can help to revitalise te reo.