One million New Zealanders celebrate te reo Māori at the same time


RNZ’s Meriana Johnsen speaks to Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori chair Rawinia Higgins as part of the Māori Language Moment.

By Meriana Johnsen, RNZ News journalist

More than one million New Zealanders took up the challenge today of using te reo Māori for the single, largest celebration of the language in history.

With covid-19 restrictions putting a stop to the annual Māori Language Week parades, the Māori Language Commission instead encouraged people to use the reo in some way, shape or form at noon, and the nation responded, with one in five New Zealanders registering to take part.

As the clock struck noon, more than 130 students and staff at the Wellington-based drama school Toi Whakaari belted out their school waiata, Toi Whakaari E.

School director Tanea Heke said they chose to sing the waiata to celebrate Te Wā Tuku Reo Māori because it was the one thing all staff and students could do well.

Taking part was student Waitahi McGee from Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Maniapoto, Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Tama ki Te Tau Ihu, who said she was reinspired to complete her te reo Māori journey.

“I’ve begun it but I haven’t finished it yet but I think that’s a life thing, but I appreciate this week because it helps remind me how important it is,” she said.

“I believe te reo Māori brings spirit and poetry and spirituality to existence – like, aroha, it’s not just love, it’s to share a breath, it’s to give but to take and there’s just so much poetry and depth to te reo Māori.”

Kōrero in the office
TBI Health physiotherapist Davide Castorina organised a kōrero in his office where kaimahi got together to introduce themselves in te reo Māori and say their favourite word.

“My Māori kupu was ‘tautoko’ [which] is really important and really relevant to what we were doing, because majority of my colleagues are not reo speakers and so it was good, because we were all there to support each other, so not to be whakamā and [to] be brave, be courageous.”

Castorina is originally from Italy, but has committed to learning te reo for his Māori children, and to help get rid of the inequities Māori face in the healthcare system.

He would also be presenting to the TBI Health clinicians on the Whare Tapa Whā, the Māori health model, later this week and how staff could incorporate it into their work.

Te Taura Whiri, the Māori Language Commission, held a ZuiMano Zoom meeting with 1000 participants where they shared karakia, and inspiring kōrero to mark the Māori Language moment.

However, more than 10,000 people tried to join the Zoom meeting at once, causing it to crash, which Te Taura Whiri chief executive Ngāhiwi Apanui said was “disappointing”.

‘We’re ecstatic about te reo’
He didn’t expect there to be such a positive response to the Te Wā Tuku Reo Māori kaupapa.

“We’re ecstatic about that, but I think I’m happier because it confirms to us that the value we’ve been trying to build for te reo over the last four, five years has now happened so it’s really a vindication in that way, but with all of these things there’s always a tomorrow, so the tomorrow for us really is how do we turn all that value into speakers of te reo Māori.”

The Māori Language Commission aims to have one million speakers of te reo Māori by 2040.

To see what other people got up to for the Māori Language Moment, visit

Māori Party, Greens, Labour launch te reo policies
The Māori Party is pledging to officially change the country’s name from New Zealand to Aotearoa and replace Pākehā place names with their given Māori names.

In an announcement today, Waiariki candidate Rawiri Waititi said it was a bold move towards making te reo Māori a language for all of Aotearoa.

“It is unacceptable that only 20 percent of our people can speak their own language and that only 3 percent of the country can speak its official language. We need to be doing more at a systemic level to protect and promote the reo of Aotearoa,” Waititi said.

Te Pāti Kākāriki (the Green Party) also used today as an opportunity to call on the government to step up their game on their commitment to te reo Māori.

It is calling for te reo Māori to be made a core school subject up to Year 10.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the government must make te reo Māori a core curriculum subject if it was serious about integrating te reo Māori into schools by 2025.

Maihi Karauna is the Labour Party’s strategy, with the goal of achieving 1 million te reo Māori speakers by 2040.

“This government is committed to recognising tikanga, mātauranga and te reo Māori as part of New Zealand’s national identity – it is what makes us unique. Making New Zealand history compulsory in schools, support for Te Pūtake o te Riri and initiatives like this demonstrates this commitment to strengthening as a country,” said the party’s spokesperson for Māori development, Nanaia Mahuta.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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