Maori language move 'cultural Scrabble'

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013

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Local iwi will be given more responsibility to grow te reo Maori in a move dubbed ''cultural Scrabble'' by critics who say it will make it more difficult for people to learn.

Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples has unveiled major proposed changes to the Maori Language Strategy in a bid to address its declining use.

''Language belongs to hapu and iwi and they've got to take ownership of it,'' he said.

Currently too much direction was given by the government and Sharples said he hoped empowering iwi through the creation of a new board which would drive the strategy would force them to focus on growing the language and to invest more of their own money to do so.

''Iwi have done well to come out of the economic recession now they need to really look at the social sector and invest in Te Reo Maori and in education big time.''

Maori was spoken relatively widely in the regions but not in urban centres where the options for learning it were limited.

Local Maori needed to develop their own strategies and networks of tutors to make it more widely available.

With an ultimate target of 80 per cent of Maori speaking the language the key was to put it directly in more Maori homes, Sharples said.

''That's the secret - if kids go home from kohanga, if they're not talking to their parents in Maori it's a waste of time so the whole idea is that families talk Maori together and take the language through.''
Labour MP Shane Jones said the proposals would see more infighting and make it more difficult for people to learn te reo.

''The notion that governance changes will strengthen language acquisition is laughable, it's a bit like how Dr Sharples has treated the entirety of his portfolio, it's cultural Scrabble, he's kind of making it up as he goes along,'' he said.

There was already a lack of access to the language, Jones said,
''I fear that what it's going to do is make language acquisition harder, not easier, because it will become embroiled in too much politics...a lot of the people fighting the good fight in terms of boosting language competence and bilingualism, the last thing they want to be embroiled in is iwi politics.''

He also wanted to see more money from Treaty settlements put into getting more young Maori into kohanga reo or similar schools to grow the language from young people up.

Input from language recovery experts and the wider public was needed to develop a strategy to grow the language, Jones said.

The proposals will be put to Maori at a series of hui next year.

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