Analysis: The Government’s policies around te reo Māori won’t discourage its use – they’ll have the opposite effect, writes Sunday reporter Tania Page.
2024 promises to be a rocky one for some if the tail end of last year was anything to go by.
Those last few weeks of 2023 saw the new National-led Government promise to roll back several policies relating to Māori.
It also declared that public service departments would have their “primary name” in English, with all public services required to primarily communicate in English.
Such policies mean the months ahead could be particularly hard for anyone trying to learn te reo Māori or supporting those who are.
They will also be tough for the reo champions who have advocated for decades and who no doubt hoped friction over the language’s relevance and importance had been settled.
I must confess I feel nervous for my two sons in the wake of these policies.
I worry about the day we’re on the bus or in a cafe speaking te reo and someone says something disparaging because it feels like there is more licence for that to happen now, and I react like a lioness, because, well, that’s my job as a mother, right?
I want my boys to be proud to be Māori but I know the cotton wool will come off sooner or later and they will realise some aren’t so keen on that idea.
I feel braced for a confrontation, which is not a great way to go about the day, and when the scenario plays out in my head it normally ends with me biting someone, which is also not cool.
I also wonder about the effectiveness of the coalition’s language directives.
All you have to do is look at the huge influx of corporate businesses recruiting kaupapa Māori advisors, the massive waiting lists for kura kaupapa (in Tāmaki Makaurau at least), and the overwhelming demand for coveted spots on any of the many excellent te reo and tikanga courses around the motu to know that that demand doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
It reflects how we have evolved as a nation.
You can’t just flick a switch on pride, self-awakening and revitalisation. It isn’t a “policy” to be turned on and off like a tap.
It is a right that is being reclaimed by tens of thousands of people across Aotearoa, people who will not be denied.
I have no whānau history of activism; we’ve been pretty disconnected from te ao Māori for a couple of generations. But I feel deeply disappointed we are at this point.
However, I’ve had the summer to reflect on the events that closed out 2023, and I don’t believe such policies will discourage the use of te reo Māori.
Instead, they will have the opposite effect.
They will ignite, galvanise and propel the desire to learn more, to kōrero more, louder and prouder. And without any biting.