Local Government Magazine
LG Magazine

Government workers and te reo Maori

By Dr Rapata Wiri, from Reo Ora.

In September 1972 Maori language activists marched to the steps of parliament and presented a petition to have the language recognised by law, as an official language.

This eventually led to the emergence of Maori language week, total immersion language schools like kohanga reo and kura kaupapa Maori, as well as the establishment of the Maori Language Act 1987, which made te reo Maori one of the country’s three official languages.

Successive governments have continued to recognise te reo Maori as a taonga, or national treasure, and an official language of New Zealand.

According to the chief executive of the Ministry of Education, Kiritina Johnstone; “The Ministry of Education shares responsibility with other government agencies for the Maihi Karauna [the Crown’s Strategy for Maori Language Revitalisation 2019 – 2023], which sets out a vision for the future of te reo Maori.

“This means creating the conditions across the education sector for te reo Maori to be learnt, and access to quality teaching and learning of te reo Maori.”

So, how do we create the conditions to allow all New Zealanders to access quality learning of te reo Maori?

What are the strategies to provide guidance on how we can all make a positive difference for those learning the language?

First, let us examine the current Maori language strategies that the Government has introduced, and then review the question of why public servants and government workers need to learn te reo Maori. To conclude, we will show you how to learn te reo Maori and overcome your fears of speaking this official language in public.

The Government’s Maori language strategy

 In April 2016, Te Ture mo te Reo Maori (The Maori Language Act) 2016, was enacted with an overwhelming majority in Parliament.

Under this Act, a new public policy was developed called Te Whare o Te Reo Mauri Ora, which means, ‘The House of the Living Language’.

This new policy acknowledges the distinctive and complementary roles that both the Government and iwi/Maori have created for the revitalisation of Maori language over the next 20 years.

Te Whare o Te Reo Mauri Ora uses the metaphor of a Maori meeting house to explain its strategy to revitalise the language by 2040.

On either side of the meeting house are two maihi (barge boards) that symbolise the Maihi Maori (iwi/Maori) and the Maihi Karauna (Crown).

The Maihi Maori strategy represents the goals of the tangata whenua (indigenous people) of Aotearoa to revitalise the Maori language and the Maihi Karauna strategy represents the Crown’s strategy to revitalise the language. The audacious goals of the Maihi Maori strategy, between 2017 and 2040 are:


  • One million people or more will be using the Maori language in community immersion domains.
  • The Maori language will be the ‘first’ language of 25 percent of all Maori children aged between 0-7.

The audacious goals of the Maihi Karauna strategy between 2017 and 2040 are:

  • Some 85 percent of New Zealanders (or more) will value te reo Maori as a key part of national identity.
  • One million New Zealanders (or more) can speak at least basic te reo Maori.
  • Some 150,000 Maori aged between 15 and over will use te reo Maori as much as English.

He patai taku – my question is

Why should staff within local and central government organisations learn te reo Maori by 2040?

By virtue of the Maori Language Act 2016 and its Maihi Karauna strategy, all government workers, particularly those who work with Maori people, should at least have a basic knowledge of te reo Maori, by the year 2040.

This does not mean that a public servant must learn the language by 2040, but should at least try to pronounce Maori words and names correctly. The challenge for those who want to learn the Maori language is how to learn the language, and how to overcome the challenges of learning a new language.

How to overcome barriers

In my experience as a Maori language lecturer I have encountered and understand the many difficulties that learners of te reo Maori face in learning a new language.

One of the biggest impediments for new learners is the fear of mispronouncing a Maori word, or phrase, in public.

For example, how many people, who work in the public sector, can correctly pronounce a name like Rangitauira, or Miss Tuwhakairiora, without embarrassing themselves or the person they are dealing with?

How many people could accurately write down the above names, without asking the person, how to spell it out, letter by letter?

Another impediment that non-Maori Te Reo learners face is being perceived as culturally insensitive or disrespectful towards Maori, by accidentally mispronouncing words, phrases, or personal names. This fear of making a mistake in public also applies to Maori people who do not speak Maori.

In fact, for Maori learners, it is worse, because there is an added cultural pressure of not knowing how to speak their own language and being judged by Maori speakers as “kuware” or ignorant.

So, here are three tips to overcoming these language barriers.

Actively seek out a skilled tutor or quality programme that will help you learn to pronounce Maori words and phrases correctly.

Practice makes perfect. Practice the words and phrases you learn with a friend, a colleague, or a family member.

Do not overthink it, just speak it. Do not worry if you might say it wrong, just say it or speak it without fear of making a mistake. People will respect you for trying.


 In working as a te reo Maori consultant within the public sector, I have discovered that a great majority of local councils and government departments do not support, or even provide any resources, to allow their staff to learn te reo Maori.

Some government departments and organisations only allow their managers to learn the language, on a piece-meal basis (i.e. 3-6 hours per year), while others do not have a plan for their department at all. Whatever the situation, we have a programme that will help achieve the audacious goals of the Maihi Karauna policy of “1 million speakers of Te Reo by 2040”.

Our programme – Reo Ora, combines an online course, a textbook and live recorded group coaching sessions with an expert language coach to help you learn Te Reo Maori in 12 weeks.

For more information about the Reo Ora programme, and how it works, please visit our website at www.reoora.com.

No reira, kia kaha ki te ako mai i to tatau reo taketake o Aotearoa!

Be vigilant in learning our native language of Aotearoa/New Zealand!

To conclude, practice these sayings in Maori: Mauri tu, mauri ora! An active life force is a healthy life force!

Ma te whakaharatau e tika ai    Practice makes perfect.

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