Te reo Māori proves difficult for Crown Counsel at tribunal hearing

Taiha Molyneux Taiha Molyneux | 06-11 00:20

An urgent Waitangi Tribunal inquiry into claims coalition Government policy is causing significant, irreversible harm to te reo Māori is underway in Wellington.

Ngāi Te Rangi filed the application late last year after the Government announced plans to prioritise Pākehā names and language in the public sector.

Opening statements from iwi representatives advised the tribunal Ngāi Te Rangi would be prioritising te reo Māori throughout the hearing.

According to iwi lawyer Mataanuku Mahuika, under the Māori Language Act, the Government had a legal obligation to consult iwi on matters regarding te reo Māori.

He said the Government failed to do so, which was in breach of the act and contravened its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.


"Koira te raruraru, kāre he korero, engari i whakaae te karauna, i ū te karauna kei roto i te ture reo Māori kia mahi ngātahi engari, na te karauna anake tēnei huarahi i para, kare ratou i korero ki ngā iwi ki ngai hapū ki ngā whānau Māori katoa kei i a ratou anake te korero. (The problem here was lack of consultation, the Crown agreed to abide by the act which specifies a requirement to work with Māori, but the Crown made this decision in isolation. It failed to speak with iwi, with hapū or whānau Māori in general, they made the choice, not Māori)."

The Crown Counsel advised the tribunal and the claimants the Government was aware of its obligations under the act, and it remained committed to upholding those obligations.

However, in addressing the tribunal today, Ngāi Te Rangi's representative said the coalition Government had consistently attacked and targeted te reo Māori and the people who spoke it since it had come into power.

"E ai ki nga whaainga o te tiriti ko tā te karauna he manaaki he tiaki i te reo Māori engari e kitea ana matou i te mataku anō, e rongo ana mātou i te mataku anō o te hunga ka hua āwangawanga ki te whakaputa i ngā kōrero Māori ki te tautoko i ngā āhuatanga i ngā tikanga Māori nei kei kōhetengia rātou. (The treaty stipulates the Crown is obligated to promote and protect our language, but what we are seeing and what we are hearing is quite the opposite, people are worried that speaking the language or supporting the language will result in them being reprimanded)."

Stanley Kaweroa told the tribunal she would only be speaking te reo Māori, which proved problematic for the Crown Counsel during cross examination.

Crown lawyers apologised for long pauses between questions and answers, outlining it was a "struggle" listening back and forth to questions and answers in two languages.

'Welcome to my world'


Kaweroa responded with "Nau mai ki tōkū ao" – "Welcome to my world".

Ngāi Te Rangi representative Roimata Stanley speaks at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on June 10, 2024. (Source: Waitangi Tribunal )

The coalition agreement with New Zealand First included a commitment that all public service departments should primarily communicate in Pākehā and prioritise use of Pākehā names, except for those specifically related to Māori.

While Cabinet has not made a final decision on the matter, some agencies such as the New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi made the switch immediately after the coalition Government came into power.

Crown lawyers said Minister for the Public Service Nicola Willis had decided against issuing directives to the public sector regarding the use of te reo Māori.

The minister had instead left decisions with individual ministers and agencies to respond to the coalition commitment on a case-by-case basis.

But Haami Piripi – a lifelong public servant and iwi leader – said the coalition agreement would override any minister's individual commitment to the reo.


Haami Piripi – a lifelong public servant and iwi leader – speaks at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on June 10, 2024. (Source: Waitangi Tribunal )

He also highlighted concern over comments made by NZ First leader Winston Peters specifically in regard to te reo Māori.

"I heard Winston Peters' public speech about it and it was offensive in the way that he put it and others have put it too: 'I think is that this is how it's gonna be, because I'm ignorant and everyone else is gonna be ignorant too', that's how I heard it and I found it very disturbing, because as a member of the coalition with so much authority in the process, it can be nothing else but damaging."

More on this topic

What's the story? Govt agencies and their Māori names

December 9, 2023

The tribunal inquiry is set to run until Friday and witnesses for iwi and the Crown will appear and provide oral and written evidence to the tribunal.


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