Te reo Māori brings us together and makes us stronger
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Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2019 parade (Wellington) / Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori

Over the past few weeks there’ve been a few stories about te reo Māori trending across the media. It reflects our nation’s changing language journey, even though a few remain bitterly opposed.

We watched Jemaine Clement talking about how his grandmother did not speak te reo. She grew up in a New Zealand where te reo was socially unacceptable and children like her were punished for speaking it.  A friend recently reflected on how he and his mate – both now deputy chief executives in the public service – were students in the 1980s. They heading to a meeting on Lambton Quay and had stepped into a lift, chatting in te reo. They were both the first in their generation to speak te reo Māori again. Suddenly a stranger turned around, frowned and told them to “Speak ENGLISH. This is New Zealand.”  More than 30-years later, Vodafone chief executive, Jason Paris’ three-word-response to a customer angry at the use of te reo by his company – Haere rā Catherine – is a good example of how times have changed.  The decision by publishers to pull an article that called our te reo Māori revitalisation movement as “racism on a grand scale” shows how we are changing. So is the way the Media Council threw out a complaint by someone angry that Stuff NZ uses the words kia ora and Aotearoa. The fact that the Broadcasting Standards Authority has ruled that using the Māori language on air is not a breach of broadcasting standards is another milestone. 

People who are bitterly opposed to te reo Māori are now part of a minority that is growing smaller by the day. What’s puzzling is their failure to recognise that te reo brings New Zealanders together in a peaceful way. While we are in no way perfect, when you compare us to other countries that struggle with race relations, we are doing better than we have in the past. 

Last year we asked Kiwis to join our Māori Language Movement | Te Wā Tuku Reo Māori and chose the same time and day that the Māori Language Petition was presented to parliament 48-years ago.  

Incredibly more than 1 million people stopped what they were doing and joined us from their schools, homes and workplaces. Waka ama paddlers, radio and television presenters, public servants to private sector workers, bus drivers and train conductors. We created the biggest te reo Māori event in history as one fifth of our entire population stopped and celebrated our nation’s language.  Our Colmar Brunton shows us that more than 8 in 10 New Zealanders see te reo as part of our national identity and something to be proud of. 

Last month we challenged New Zealanders to learn how to introduce themselves in te reo with our #MyMihi campaign. We know that while we may come from many different backgrounds: te reo is something that we can share and celebrate as New Zealanders. 

I’m delighted to announce that this year we will be celebrating Māori Language Week from the 13th to the 19th September 2021.  It will be hard to top what we did last year: but we will give it a go! And I encourage you to be part of the movement.

To those who continue to oppose te reo: Our language is not going away! It’s getting stronger every day and by the time today’s children are my age: it will be normal to hear, see and speak te reo. My hope is that future generations of New Zealanders will be multilingual not monolingual: why stop at one language when our children could one day speak several.

Kia kaha te reo Māori!
Kia kaha hoki ngā iwi o Aotearoa!


Professor Rawinia Higgins
Māori Language Commissioner


Te Wiki 2021 twitter post


Related links:

- Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2021 resources
- Media release