50th anniversary of Maori Language Petition

This year Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori marks the 50th anniversary of the Māori Language Petition which was delivered to parliament on September 14th 1972.

Large crowd with Rangatiratanga flag.
Massive turnout for 2019 Te Wiki o te reo Māori Parade to parliament.expand/collapse

This petition, with more than 30,000 signatures, came about in response to the steady decline of spoken Māori. It sought to revitalise te reo Māori by having it taught at schools.

In 1972, support from the general population was slim. Many questioned the need for Māori to retain their language and had little understanding of Māori culture, or of the value of te reo Māori.

Let us take a moment to wind back the clock to the early 1800s - the time of early contact between Māori and non-Māori. It was common then for missionaries, government representatives and traders to speak te reo Māori. For centuries, multiple languages have been spoken amongst traders, travellers, diplomats, missionaries, and the well-educated across the globe.  Queen Victoria spoke four – English, French, German (her first language), and Latin.

Post contact, Māori was still widely spoken for around half a century, but waves of settlers, many with limited education, but with the English language in common, began to effect change. By the 1860s te reo Māori was being actively discouraged in schools and all classroom education was conducted in English.

Over the next 100 years there was a continual decline in the use of Māori.

On 1 August 1987 te reo Māori was finally recognised as an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand

In 1978, Ruatoki School became the first bi-lingual school in Aotearoa New Zealand. Māori tertiary education provider, Te Wānanga o Raukawa was established in 1981. A decade after the 1972 petition was presented, kōhanga reo (preschool Māori language nests) began to open. These offered children the opportunity for immersion in Māori language and cultural values.

In 1984, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (known then as the Waipā Kōkiri Arts Centre), was established in Te Awamutu. Shortly after that, beginning in 1985, Kura Kaupapa Māori - schools that give children their education in te reo Māori – began to open.

On 1 August 1987 te reo Māori was finally recognised as an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand.

In 2004, in a world first for indigenous tertiary education institutions, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, which opened in 1992, received accreditation to teach courses to PhD level.

Niki Partsch