It’s been 35 years since te reo Māori was officially recognised as an official language in its own country but the battle for survival, Māori language commissioner Rawinia Higgins says, is yet to be won. 

In 1987 the Māori Language Act came into force - recognising te reo as an official language in Aotearoa.

During the 1860s, Māori children were taught in English as part of The Native Schools Act 1867. 

Many Māori children were beaten and punished for speaking te reo at school. 

The impact of this has been felt by generations of Māori in Aotearoa and by the time te reo became an official language, only 15% of Māori could speak their mother tongue.

Now almost 25% of Māori speak te reo as a first language, with another 35% saying they speak te reo fairly well.

And the language is growing with each generation.

Forty percent of New Zealanders aged 15 to 34 are able to speak more than a few words or phrases of te reo Māori.

Higgins said “in 1987 some warned that making te reo an official language would divide New Zealanders but 35 years later, te reo is something that unites us”.

For Māori, Higgins said the battle for its survival is part of the story of every family.

“But the battle is not over - we need one million speakers of te reo by 2040 to safeguard our language for future generations.” 

“Those babies born today will be the first adult generation of speakers in 2040, the countdown is on,” Higgins said.

Leading up to Māori language week in September, the Māori Language Commission is launching a campaign to collect stories about people's battle for te reo.

“We want to ensure that families and communities capture te reo stories that matter to them. 

“Whether people want to share them publicly: is up to them. The main thing is that they are captured so that future generations can understand why and how our people fought for the survival of te reo Māori.“

The Māori Language Commission will launch a portal for people to submit these stories in the coming month.

Top Image: The te reo Māori petition is presented to Parliament in 1972. Source: Te Karere

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