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Te reo everywhere, everyway, for everyone, every day

In brief
  • Te reo organically became an important part of New Zealand culture.
  • Now the government is trying to create a bilingual culture in a language which is not used much in NZ and not at all outside NZ.
  • Does the government have a mandate to downplay English, to force some te reo on everyone?

Natural growth

Te reo Māori is an important part of New Zealand heritage and an official language. Many words and phrases naturally found their way into the broader Kiwi dialect as would be expected over time There is wide support for the identity, culture and language growing in this way. .

Mandated growth

However, the Government is attempting to force a bilingual culture. Much of this is being done without a mandate. For example it has busied itself renaming and creating new government agencies with te reo names.  Here are 5 government departments, which now use Māori names and branding, often without English descriptors.

  • Te Kaporeihana Āwhina Hunga Whara
  • Āta mātai, mātai whetū
  • Te Amorangi Mātauranga Matua
  • Whānautanga, Matenga, Mārenatanga
  • Nga Pirihimana O Aotearoa

Less than 5% of Kiwis speak the language fluently. It’s questionable how many find these names, translated to te reo, useful to them. 

Even Te Tari Taake, the tax department, has tax documents with headings in te reo. There is no connection to Māori culture.

Te reo everywhere, everyway, for everyone, every day - Centrist
The Government is going to great lengths to instill te reo Māori, but is it practical?

Huge efforts

Te reo “everywhere, everyway, for everyone, every day” is the goal of Maihi Karauna which is the Crown’s Strategy for Māori Language Revitalisation. It sets out some very lofty goals and outlines huge efforts the state will take to achieve them.

Some support the move and appreciate the changes. But others find it confusing and even offensive as it often plays as the Government attempting to remove English while forcing te reo on the public with no obvious practical use, and certainly not organically derived from Kiwi culture. It may be creating an association of te reo with the bureaucracy, which for many is not a positive connection.

The Government aims to have one million New Zealanders able to speak te reo by 2040, part of its broader goals of revitalising the culture, including plans to make te reo mandatory at school, on which it is spending tens of millions.

It’s notable the role prominent Māori themselves played in te reo’s suppression in the late 19th and 20th century. Many wanted Māori children to learn English, viewing it as a more practical key to social advancement.

Considering falling literacy rates, is it advisable to ensure students learn the educational basics to succeed before taking too much of their focus with te reo?

Optional or mandatory, it seems unlikely anything approaching the numbers the Government aspires to will be achieved. What use would the language be for most except perhaps if the Government creates the artificial incentive of needing it to work for the public service? 

Winston Peters of NZ First has criticised the “hijacking” of te reo Māori by woke virtue-signalling elitists furthering their agenda. Peters says it’s nonsensical that words like “waka” (traditional canoe) are being stretched to mean “car” or “plane” by the Government because Māori didn’t produce cars or planes. NZ First advocates that government departments be named using English, a language spoken by the overwhelming majority.

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