Te Mātāwai: the most important change in te reo Māori in 25 years that you may not have heard about

Consultation hui for the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill begins tomorrow in Kaitāia. Over the next 12 days they will be coming to a town near you. These consultation hui will be part of the thinking of the Advisory Group that goes into their final report to the Minister of Māori Development. You should definitely have your say: this looks like the biggest change in how the Government supports the revitalisation of the Māori language in 25 years.

That might come as a shock to you, putting this in the top ten most important bills you probably don’t know about (along with the Coroners Amendment Bill and Environmental Reporting Bill… and the NZ Flags Referendum Bill (no, I’m joking about the last one)).

Currently we have three main structures for revitalising the Māori language:

  • Te Māngai Pāho provide funding to Māori radio stations and for the production and broadcast of Māori language television programmes, radio programmes and music recordings. You may know them from their annoying jingle at the end of programmes you like.
  • Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, or if you prefer the Māori Language Commission promote the use of Māori as a living language and as everyday way of communicating. At times some of the complicated new words they come up with makes me question that intent.
  • And of course the Māori Television Service who aim to significantly contribute to the revitalisation of the Māori language and be a relevant, effective and accessible independent Māori television service.

As far as I am aware, all of them are run professionally, within their (relatively) small budgets, and with a keen eye on meeting their objectives. So why the change? Perhaps the key reason is that what we are doing to revitalise the Māori language is not working. According to Statistics NZ data in Te Kupenga and the Census, between 2001 and 2013 the proportion of Māori adults who reported they could hold an everyday conversation in the Māori language decreased from 28 percent to 24 percent. Amongst our pakeke and kuia koroua, in 2013 only 17 percent of Māori aged 55 years and over said they could speak te reo Māori well or very well, a huge drop from 29 percent in 2001. Worryingly, given the maturity of the Māori medium education sector now, there was no significant change in the younger age groups who could speak te reo Māori well or very well (about eight to 11 percent).

Between 2001 and 2013, the proportion of Māori speaking all or mostly te reo Māori decreased across all activities outside the home. In the context of meetings or hui, the proportion of Māori speaking all or mostly te reo Māori fell from 22 percent in 2001 to 11 percent in 2013; for helping at school it fell from 19 percent to 12 percent. The only bright spot is that in 2013, 164,500 (35 percent) Māori adults reported speaking some te reo Māori within the home, which links with the 64 percent of Māori adults who said they could speak more than a few words or phrases of te reo Māori.

So what we’re doing really doesn’t seem to be having an impact where it matters. So the Minister of Māori Development has a new Māori Language Strategy with five goals: raising the status of the language; increasing people learning the language; raising our critical awareness of revitalisation; improving the quality and appropriate use of the language; and increasing the use of the language across a range of domains, including the home.

To implement the strategy, we come to the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill. It repeals the Māori Language Act 1987, Part 4A of the Broadcasting Act 1989 and the Māori Television Service Act 2003. Don’t worry, it retains all opening statements about te reo Māori being a tāonga and the like. The guts of the bill is the establishment of Te Mātāwai – one board where there are currently three. It is a governance board of 12 members: seven from seven iwi clusters; three from Te Reo Tukutuku (a reformation of the Māori Electoral Colleges from Te Pūtahi Pāoho); and two appointed by the Minister.

The purpose of Te Mātāwai is to provide leadership regarding the health and well-being of the Māori language and oversight of Te Taura Whiri, Te Māngai Pāho and Māori Television (with the Minister of Māori Affairs and the Minister of Finance). As an aside, I thought it was weird the legislation hadn’t caught up with the fact there is no Minister of Māori Affairs anymore. It is the embodiment of the Treaty relationship, a model that’s currently envisaged as Te Whare o te Mauriora.

Under Vote Māori Affairs, Te Mātāwai’s budget in the the 2015/2016 financial year is likely to include the $82 million “for the promotion of Māori language and culture,” the $7 million ICT fund and perhaps the $2 million Māori language research (not sure about the last one, but it seems to fit well here).

There are four things I would like to see change or clarified before the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) bill becomes an act:

  • there is currently no formal representation for urban Māori. At 2013, 84 percent of Māori lived in urban environments, a quarter of the population in Auckland. We cannot continue to overlook urban Māori representation; they are a sizeable iwi in their own right. Far be it from me to promote another job for Willie Jackson or John Tamihere, but Te Mātāwai needs urban Māori on its board.
  • Te Pūtahi Pāoho or the Māori Television Electoral College had representatives from the following groups: kura kaupapa Māori; National Māori Congress; Māori and iwi radio; whare wānanga; Māori journalists; Te Ataarangi; kōhanga reo; Māori Women’s Welfare League; Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te reo Māori; and the NZ Māori Council. Under Te Mātāwai this will drop from 10 to three seats. I believe that should be four seats; three permanent seats for these groupings – kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori and whare wānanga; Māori and iwi radio; and Māori journalists – and one seat elected from the other colleges.
  • I would like to see a clearer process for rotating representation within the iwi clusters, perhaps on a three year basis. The risk is we end up with the same faces from our larger iwi and that our local dialects and issues are lost at Te Mātāwai. Rotating representation should mean all the iwi in the clusters have an opportunity for their iwi to take a lead.
  • What the government’s responsibility is in this bold new partnership is pretty unclear. It can’t just be hand over the money and good luck. I would like to see the inclusion of some clauses that bind the Ministry of Education, Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry of Social Development to some commitments to the Māori language. After all, they have budgets and capability far beyond the mere $82 million Te Mātāwai will have to manage, and their policies and funding are important to the success or otherwise of the communities that Te Mātāwai is trying to influence.

I think Te Mātāwai is developing into something worthwhile and interesting. There are some gaps, some blind spots and some bureaucratic-centric decisions, but it could bring better integration and focused sharing of views. The Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill is important if you care about the development and revitalisation of te reo Māori. If your children are in Māori medium education; if you watch Māori Television; if you’ve been to a Matariki event around te reo Māori; if you use a modern Māori dictionary; if you have anything to do with te reo Māori, this bill matters because it is about to change how the governance of all of that funding, projects, and programmes is done. So if you can, go to a hui; here’s the consultation dates again. What we are currently doing hasn’t revitalised the Māori language in the way everyone hoped, so something has to change. Have your say about whether Te Mātāwai in its suggested form is the way to go.

[Header image is from Te Taura Whiri’s 2013 Wiki o te Reo Māori campaign, found at korero.maori.nz]

One thought on “Te Mātāwai: the most important change in te reo Māori in 25 years that you may not have heard about

  1. Te reo Māori needs to be made compulsory; it’s the only way to increase its status in the eyes of all in Aotearoa and to ensure that more and more people may decide to continue to learn it and to speak it on a day to day basis!

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