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The Maori Language Act

Longstanding Maori activism and resistance to the colonialist onslaught eventually began to gain some traction, and in 1986 saw a landmark finding of the Waitangi Tribunal.4 The response of the Tribunal to the Maori language claim that te reo Maori should have been protected was irrefutable. The Tribunal not only agreed that state policies had jeopardized the Maori language, in breach of the expectations in the Treaty, but went beyond that to allocate responsibility for widespread Maori educational “failure” as residing within the education system, concluding that:

The education system in New Zealand is operating unsuccessfully because too many Maori children are not reaching an acceptable standard of education. For some reason they do not or cannot take advantage of it. Their language is not adequately protected and their scholastic achievements fall far short of what they should be. The promises of the Treaty of Waitangi of equality in education as in all other human rights are undeniable. Judged by the system’s own standards Maori children are not being successfully taught, and for that reason alone, quite apart from a duty to protect the Maori. (Waitangi Tribunal, 1986, pp. 58-59)

That same year, on July 20, 1987, the Maori Language Act declared te reo Maori an “official” language of New Zealand. It states: “Whereas in the Treaty of Waitangi the Crown confirmed and guaranteed to the Maori people, among other things, all their taonga: And whereas the Maori language is one such taonga ... The Maori language is hereby declared to be an official language of New Zealand” (Maori Language Act, 1987, p. 2). Te reo Maori is one of New Zealand’s two official spoken and written languages. Its status, however, is yet to be recognized and reflected in practice in educational settings through the core curriculum in spite of its legal and political recognition.

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