Politics | Te Reo Māori

NZ Māori Council warns MFAT it’s ready for ‘fight’ over te reo Māori scrubbing

NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Fiji PM Sitiveni Rabuka in March 2023.

After revelations this week in a leaked memo that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) scrubbed te reo Māori from some official use in anticipation of the new National-led government, Te Kaunihera Māori o Aoteaora (The New Zealand Māori Council) has put the ministry on notice that it “stands ready” to “fight” to protect the language, if required. Furthermore, it wants the ministry to formally disavow itself of any measures to erase te reo Māori from its communications.

The council in a release said it was “concerned” by news reports suggesting that a government ministry may have been removing te reo Māori from government communications.

“Te Reo Māori is a highly prized taonga of Māori. As such, there is a positive obligation on the Crown to take steps to preserve Te Reo and protect the right of Māori to continue to use it as their principal language. This has been acknowledged by past governments and affirmed before the courts. Māori also have an equal right to access, and to participate in, government.

“The gradual inclusion of Te Reo in all forms of communication at all levels of government has been an essential element of meeting these obligations,” the release, by kaunihera co-chairs George Ngātai and Peter Fraser, on behalf of the council said.

This recognition had been “cemented” in legislation, it said.

“Parliament has recognised this need in legislation. Te Reo Māori has been declared to be an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand. That legislation also cemented the right of Māori to communicate with government in Te Reo, and established a Māori Language Commission with the express purpose of developing policies to make the integration of Te Reo as an official language a practical reality.

“The use of Te Reo has always been driving [sic] by ideas of inclusion, not exclusion. However, we are aware that people of all races who did not have access to Te Reo education can feel disconcerted by its growing use.”

The council said election claims about government “weaponisation” of te reo had stirred this unease.

“We are also conscious of the rhetoric from some of the candidates in the recent general election going so far as to describe the use of Te Reo by government as its “weaponisation”. The Council believes such statement [sic] take advantage of these feelings of unease and misleading [sic] people about the nature and purpose of the use of Te Reo.”

The council cautioned that public officials should steer clear of such matters, otherwise they risk acting unlawfully.

“It is important that our public officials remain unaffected by this demagoguery. Short of a legislative change, any policy that seeks to reverse the integration of Te Reo Māori as an official language would be plainly unlawful. Any such moves would be a breach of the Crown’s obligations under Te Tiriti.”

The council ended its release with a demand for an assurance that the language is safe from MFAT chief executive Chris Seed - whose decision it is said to have been to remove te reo from an official document template - and a warning that they would take action if it isn’t.

“We seek a formal response from the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that no such measures are to be taken at the Ministry. And we publicly give notice that the Council stands ready, as it has done in the past, to take action to fight for the protection of these important rights.”