March during Māori Language Week, to demand that the Māori language have equal status with English on August 1, 1980, Wellington. (Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library)
March during Māori Language Week, to demand that the Māori language have equal status with English on August 1, 1980, Wellington. (Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library)

ĀteaJuly 19, 2019

Cheat sheet: Compulsory te reo Māori in schools

March during Māori Language Week, to demand that the Māori language have equal status with English on August 1, 1980, Wellington. (Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library)
March during Māori Language Week, to demand that the Māori language have equal status with English on August 1, 1980, Wellington. (Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library)

Our government and leaders are (still) divided on the question of compulsory te reo Māori. Who’s for it, who’s against it, and who’s flip flopping around in the middle?

Under article two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the government pledges to protect “taonga katoa” (all treasured things), amongst which sits te reo Māori, one of three official languages of New Zealand.

It’s acknowledged across the board that New Zealand simply does not have the teachers or the resources to make te reo Māori a core subject in schools right now. But goals are made to be worked towards and some are prepared to do the mahi to get there while others are putting it in the too-hard-basket or simply don’t want to.


The Green Party

The Greens want to make te reo Māori compulsory, although there was nothing about it in their confidence and supply agreement with Labour. Their policy aims to make it a core curriculum subject in all public primary and secondary schools from Year 1 to Year 10 by 2030, as well as providing additional resource for kaupapa Māori education.

Nanaia Mahuta

One Labour MP refusing to toe the party line, the Māori Development Minister has been firm in her aspiration for making te reo Māori a core subject. She also made the point this month that more people are learning it in order to “engage with the Māori economy”, a counterpoint to the irrelevant but popular argument that te reo Māori isn’t useful.

Willie Jackson

Mahuta’s fellow Labour Māori caucus member Willie Jackson has also made no secret of his support for compulsory te reo.  In 2016, the former broadcaster wrote in an opinion piece for RadioLive: “the strangest point about this compulsion debate is how come it’s okay for all Kiwi kids to compulsorily learn English at school but Maori is seen as one step too far?”

The Māori Party

Well duh. Prior to the 2017 election, Māori Party leader Marama Fox called Labour’s te reo policy a “waste of space… Have an aspiration or get out of the seat.”

The Māori Party’s 2017 election promises went as far as offering to fund two years’ full time te reo Māori study for one person in every non-reo speaking family.

Te Taura Whiri Māori Language Commission

Chief executive Ngahiwi Apanui said a 2017 report commissioned by Te Taura Whiri recommended that te reo Māori be made a core compulsory subject over 17 years, starting in 2020. He has challenged all political parties to commit to the target.

The Opportunities Party

At the last election TOP advocated for compulsary te reo Māori up to year 8. Then-party leader Gareth Morgan told the Otago Daily Times he wanted New Zealanders to better understand the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and for it to play a greater role in New Zealand’s democracy.


Labour Party

The government have spoken of ‘integrating’ and ‘normalising’ te reo Māori and have pledged 1 million speakers of te reo by 2040 (a goal they nicked from the Māori Party), but have avoided the term ‘compulsory’. Labour’s Te Ahu o te Reo policy aims to “grow and strengthen an education workforce that can integrate te reo Māori into the learning of all ākonga and students in Aotearoa New Zealand” and “support the government’s vision that te reo Māori will be a part of all ākonga and students’ education by 2025.”

Kelvin Davis

It was reported on Monday that the minister for Māori Crown Relations had broken ranks and come out in favour of making it a core subject, after he answered “as soon as possible” when asked when he would like to see it become a core subject. Davis contests that his answer meant that he is in favour of making te reo Māori a core subject. In earlier comments he described Te Ahu o te Reo as normalising te reo and “not doing it in a threatening way.”

“If we try and force something down people’s throats and they’re not ready for it, then that could have negative consequences.”

Read more: Why does the idea of te reo Māori as a core subject make so many people flip out?



Party-of-one Act are officially against making te reo Māori a core subject, with party leader David Seymour calling it “social engineering” (no word if systematic attempts to undermine and dismantle the language in first place also count as social engineering). He also argued that too many children are leaving school without literacy skills to then force another language on them. When you consider that many of those students are Māori, and full immersion kura kaupapa around the country regularly achieve NCEA pass rates over 90%, you could argue learning te reo Māori increases literacy, just not the ‘right kind’ of literacy apparently.

NZ First

Not only is NZ First leader Winston Peters against compulsory te reo Māori in schools, he has been critical of Labour MPs that have to dared to go against the government’s official policy of ‘integration’ and ‘universal availability’. NZ First have committed however to training more te reo Māori teachers to meet demand for making the subject universally available.

National Party

At the last election National advocated for increasing funding for te reo Māori education, however the party’s first ever Māori leader, Simon Bridges has said, “I don’t support compulsory, never will.”

Hekia Parata

Although no longer in parliament, a most surprising entry on the ‘against’ list is former education minister Hekia Parata, herself a native te reo Māori speaker.

She wrote for Salient in 2016: “I’m for a bilingual nation. Others are strongly of the view, te reo Māori mo Māori anake [the Māori langauge for Māori only].

“Of all the drivers for successful language acquisition, motivation is essential. Compulsion is the antithesis of motivation.”

Richard Prosser

If you think the former NZ First list member’s name sounds like rhyming slang for something, there are plenty of examples to back that up, including the following comments:

“I don’t like part-Maori hypocrites demanding compensation for injustices that weren’t done to them . . . They’re wanting me to compulsorily learn to speak Maori. Why? What for? So I can communicate with people in other Maori-speaking countries?”

Hobson’s Pledge

Consistent with their core philosophy that te reo Māori me ona tikanga has no value whatsoever for any New Zealander living or dead, the anti-Treaty group have come out in opposition of compulsory te reo, claiming: “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.”

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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