Te reo Maori should become compulsory in New Zealand, says Maori broadcaster Willie Jackson.
His comment comes after statistics show the proportion of Maori able to hold an everyday conversation in te reo Maori has decreased over the last 17 years.
Maori broadcaster Willie Jackson believes te reo Maori should be compulsory in New Zealand. Image: Maori TV.
This week is “Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori” (Maori Language Week) with this year's theme “Akina te reo” (behind you all the way), which is about using te reo Maori to support people, to inspire and to cheer on. Maori Language Week runs from July 4 to 10.
Willie has been a long-time advocate of te reo Maoriand he made his comment earlier this week on Maori Television's current affairs show Native Affairs.
Hosted by Oriini Tipene-Leach, the show focused in on the issue, “does New Zealand care about te reo Maori?” The show invited a mixture of politicians and media commentators to talk on the issue.
Willie says the majority of Pakeha didn't support the language.
“That's why we have to enshrine it in the law. It has to be made compulsory… You know you get all these people who say ‘no you can't make it compulsory because there is not enough teachers, not enough resources'.”
“But the reality is, if you make it compulsory and then the Government prioritises it. Then they find the funding and then they find the resources. They [Government] always do. Once it is law everything changes.”
New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone says New Zealanders, especially Pakeha, do care about te reo Maori.
“My experience is that there is a growing ground swell amongst Pakeha, to learn and speak Maori. It's just that there is not enough of them and I think that we should at least acknowledge those who are wanting to learn Maori.
“Not only that a number of them are realising that in order to go forward as a nation they need to have some understanding of the indigenous language of Aotearoa.”
A Statistics New Zealand reports shows between 1996 and 2013, the proportion of the Maori population able to converse in the language has decreased from 25 per cent to 21.3 per cent. The same report showed the only age group in which te reo speakers had increased was only among those aged 65 and over.
Waiariki MP and Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says the declining number of people who could speak Maori is a concern.
“I think it's fair to say if you take the statistics which say five per cent of tamariki throughout this country are learning te reo Maori.
“The number of students in kohanga reo are going down and the same is happening in te kura kaupapa. Although it is starting to levelling out. But 5 per cent, that isn't going to cut it… therefore we've got to do better.”
Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta says it's important to make the language more accessible to more New Zealanders.
“If you look at the demographic of New Zealand by 2025, we will have a browning of the population and with that comes an affirmation of our culture.
“There is a strong and stable cohort coming through and we need to grow that. But more importantly we need to ensure te reo Maori is accessible to more New Zealanders because the browning of the population will require it.”