36 years of te reo Māori as an official language

Maori Language Commission with Koro Wetere. Dominion Post (Newspaper): Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1987/4271/18-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23180948

The first thing the inaugural board of the Māori Language Commission did when it met for the first time was to change its name to a Māori one: Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.

Years of campaigning and fighting for te reo Māori to be given official language status in the ‘70s and ‘80s resulted in the Māori Language Act of 1987. This gave speakers the right to use te reo Māori in legal settings. The legislation also established the Māori Language Commission, which was fully operational in August 1987.

Today marks the 36th anniversary of te reo Māori becoming an official language of Aotearoa after a bill introduced by Koro Wētere was passed in 1987. The Māori Language Act of 1987 catalysed the formation of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, formerly Te Komihana mō te Reo Maori.

Tā Tīmoti Kāretu was appointed the first Chair and tasked with building a team to get the commission off the ground. In an exclusive interview with Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, Kāretu revealed that the former Minister of Māori Affairs Wētere approached him in March of that year to establish the organisation. The job would take three years and would require him to take leave from the University of Waikato.

“Koro came and asked me if I would accept that role. I then had to seek permission for the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waikato to see if he would grant me leave”.

The first board members, along with Tā Tīmoti, were Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira, Anita Moke, Tā Kīngi Matutaera Īhaka, and Dr Ray Harlow. A dislike for the original name led to discussions about coming up with one that best-represented te iwi Māori. As Kāretu credits Tā Kīngi Īhaka for the new name, he revealed,

“That name was too Pākehā and dull. He thought that this (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori) should be the name, and he gave it. He said that the rope (taura) that binds us all together is our language. A rope that is woven by each tribe to be strong forevermore”.


Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira, Tākuta Ray Harlow, Mātene Rūāwai(Kaituhi), Ahorangi Tīmoti Kāretu, Tā Kīngi Matutaera Īhaka (Tumuaki), Ānita Moke


Fast forward to today, and several te reo Māori milestones have created impactful change in communities, organisations, businesses and by individuals. In 2020, Te Taura Whiri launched Te Wā Tuku Reo Māori, intending to have one million people speak te reo Māori during Māori Language Week.

This year, Te Wā Tuku Reo Māori is back, and people are encouraged to sign up to reomāori.co.nz and take part in the Māori Language moment again. New Zealanders have 44 days to prepare and are encouraged to be one in a million speaking te reo Māori during Te Wiki o te Reo Māori.


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