Maori language strategy finds support in Waikato

A controversial Maori language strategy has won the endorsement of Waikato Maori despite sustained opposition from te reo experts.

Chairman of Te Arataura, the Waikato-Tainui tribal executive, Rahui Papa said te reo Maori would be strengthened under the Government's proposed language strategy.

Fellow tribal member and Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta had a number of concerns and had already called for the bill to be withdrawn.

Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples will introduce his Maori Language Bill into the House next week for the first reading.

A 2011 ministerial review of the Maori language strategy recognised seven iwi dialectal regions and two urban centres where runanga-a-reo (language councils) would be established to control programmes and spending.

Under the review, revitalisation of te reo would be "led by iwi" and if Sharples' bill passed into law, a new body called Te Matawaiwould be established to oversee the Maori Language Commission, Maori broadcast funding agency and Maori Television.

Papa said Te Matawai would allow iwi to spearhead the revitalisation of te reo and ensure government maintains its Treaty obligations.

"Under Te Matawai, iwi will be able to further carry out their role as kaitiaki of te reo Maori which, in turn will enhance various hapu and iwi dialects and ensure their survival," he said.

Last year's Census figures showed just one in five Maori spoke te reo, in decline across all age groups except the over 65s. Papa said the strategy was a courageous move by the minister.

"Te reo Maori is a taonga belonging to all iwi and Maori in Aotearoa so it is vital we are part of initiatives which protect and promote this taonga."

Te Matawai came under fire from Maori language expert Dr Timoti Karetu who asked why the language would be returned to the control of the same iwi who let it die and the New Zealand Maori Council sought an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing to halt Sharples' swansong.

Mahuta had "real concerns" over the Sharples bill and said criticism by language experts who worked in non-iwi entities were valid. "They are aligned to excellence and quality in the growth of te reo," said Mahuta. "Iwi have a part to play but let's not fool ourselves that they are the whole solution to growing and revitalising to reo."

She said the seven dialectal regions may not represent iwi who were already committed to their own language strategy and Government needed to support iwi-led strategies and learn from those successes.

"We shouldn't accept that the revitalisation of te reo starts and stops with iwi," she said.

She feared te reo would be used as a political football but with the September date at the ballot box approaching, she was keen for it to become an election issue. "It's too important for it to have no direction and it's too important for it to be driven any one political party."

Waikato Times