Last week, to mark Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Te Karere published an editorial solely in te reo Māori written by presenter and respected te reo Māori expert, Scotty Morrison.

The exchanges and discussions generated from the piece have been very interesting. Some believed the column created another Māori language domain, which is vital for the growth, development and revitalisation of te reo. Others argued that a translation needed to be provided, else we wouldn’t be fulfilling our brief as communicators. They cited the sobering fact that less than 4% of New Zealand’s population can speak Māori.[i]

In television funding jargon, providing translations means you’re creating content that caters to receptive audiences. If it’s palatable and digestible for non-active Māori language audiences then this is considered a ‘win’.

Māori language content aimed at a fluent audience (content that is 80-100 per cent in te reo Māori) still generally requires translations, if not, it’s often given an off-peak broadcast time and buried in the schedule with little promotion and very few eyes watching it. Māori Television’s te reo Māori only channel, Te Reo, is a case in point: like a ghost town, it’s there but no one’s visiting.

And what happened to the requirement that Mai FM and George FM promote and normalise te reo Māori? They’re Māori frequencies after all!

Some of my academic friends refuse to write their thesis in te reo Māori. It’s that same old chestnut: “No one reads Māori, barely even speaks it, so we’ll write it in English,” they say.

Education-wise, I’ve come through Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa Māori, Wharekura and Whare Wānanga. As a broadcasting professional, I’ve worked in iwi radio, Māori Television, and now I’m a producer with Te Karere, TVNZ. But to be honest, I’ve also had my own internal wānanga with Māori language in academic and professional settings. I chose to complete my final year of undergraduate studies, as well as my post-graduate studies, in English because I wanted to strengthen my written skills in that language. I also advocate strongly about the importance of subtitles for Te Karere news items because I want to make the reo and our stories accessible to as many people as possible.

It’s heartening that attitudes to te reo Māori are changing. We’re seeing more high profile New Zealanders, like Jack Tame and Guyon Espiner, extolling the virtues of te reo. TVNZ recently commissioned a survey which showed more than 70 per cent of New Zealanders think that retaining and maintaining Māori language is important. When I order my daily large mocha from the local Z station, I’m greeted with a hearty ‘kia ora!” from the immigrant behind the counter.

But with less than four per cent able to speak Māori, the language remains at risk and much more is needed.

The words of our Sir James Henare offer us hope and inspiration:

‘Kua tāwhiti kē to haerenga mai, kia kore e haere tonu’

You have come too far not to go further.

Like the brave protesters who petitioned parliament for official recognition of te reo Māori 46 years ago, we need to be brave, innovative and committed. We need to remember that te reo Māori is a taonga for Tangata Whenua (Māori) and Tangata Tiriti (non-Māori) as set out in the Treaty of Waitangi. 

Only then will the long-term future of the indigenous language of Aotearoa be secured.




[i] 2013 Census