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Waitangi Tribunal approves application for urgent inquiry into the Government’s te reo Māori policies

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Charlie Tawhiao. Photo / RNZ


The Waitangi Tribunal has approved an application for an urgent inquiry into coalition Government policies impacting te reo Māori.

Tauranga-based iwi Ngāi Te Rangi lodged the application in December claiming the government had violated its Treaty obligation to protect the Māori language.

Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi Settlement Trust chair Charlie Tawhiao said support for the claim from Māori and non-Māori was overwhelming and the iwi is looking forward to presenting its case.

“We are really grateful for the opportunity the tribunal is giving us to have this case tested in a semi-legal format and also just to have a systematic inquiry into this issue for us.”

In its application to the tribunal, Ngāi Te Rangi outlined its concern over a range of policies and statements made by the coalition Government, which included removing the Māori names of ministries and Act’s Treaty Principles Bill.

It said the Government had breached Article 2 of the Treaty and its policies were in violation of the Māori Language Act and the Bill of Rights.

A Crown memorandum to the tribunal in December opposed the urgent application, outlining it would be premature to conduct an urgent inquiry into the Treaty Principles BIll as “the ultimate content of the Bill is not known”.

The Crown also outlined the Government had not “prohibited” the use of Māori names or language in the public sector, rather it had introduced a policy requiring English to be used as the “primary” language in the public sector.

Tawhiao said the Crown was in the unenviable position of having to confront multiple claims to the Waitangi Tribunal that cover areas which are still quite vague in detail.

“The problem for the Crown and for the Tribunal is that some of the matters haven’t even manifested as policy, there is no clarity around them, but we are focused on our claim and te reo and we aren’t operating on our own here, Pākehā and Māori are concerned.”

In January, Waikato Tainui filed proceedings in the High Court in Wellington looking for reassurance to the Crown to keep its promise to protect their reo.

Executive chair Tukoroirangi Morgan said the action by the iwi was prompted by growing concern over statements made by ministers and within Cabinet which were in direct conflict of Crown obligations to Māori.

He said the Crown has an obligation to protect te reo Māori under Te Ture mō te Reo Māori 2016 (Māori Language Act 2016) and the High Court action sought to address immediate concerns on those matters that are now under threat.

A date on when the inquiry will be heard by the tribunal was pending.

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