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He Whakapapa Reo Māori - Short History of Māori language

Māori is the foundation language of Aotearoa, the ancestral language of tangata whenua (indigenous people) and a taonga guaranteed protection under the Treaty of Waitangi.

During the 19th and early 20th century Māori language was the main language of communication. However, the establishment of schools saw Māori children being taught almost entirely in English. An English language only policy was often strictly enforced through physical punishment.

Urban migration

During the 1940s-1970s Māori migrated from rural communities to urban centres. English language was seen by many Māori as the key to wealth, increased social standing and better standards of living.

Many Māori parents stopped speaking Māori to their children. This, together with policies which favoured English as the dominant language, resulted in a massive language loss within the Māori population who moved from speaking Māori to English.

Language initiatives

By the 1970s, it was predicted that Māori would soon be a language without native speakers. This caused grave concern among Māori, resulting in initiatives to revitalise the language including Te Ātaarangi (a language learning system), kōhanga reo (Māori language pre-schools), kura kaupapa Māori (Māori language schools) and Māori broadcasting.

Māori Language Act

In 1987, the Māori Language Act declared Māori to be an official language of New Zealand and established the Māori Language Commission - Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori to promote the growth of Māori language.


Recent research suggests that the number of Māori speakers has stabilised with approximately 130,000 Māori indicating some ability to speak Māori. This represents about 25% of the Māori population. However, the number of fluent speakers is significantly less and the situation requires concentrated efforts to ensure that the language survives. It is hoped that the establishment of the Māori Television Service along with other initiatives in recent years will bear further fruits for the revitalisation of Māori language.

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