HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
EXPERT MECHANISM ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
FIFTH SESSION, JULY 9 – 13, 2012, GENEVA
E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga maunga, e nga awaawa, e nga pataka o nga taonga tuku iho, tena koutou katoa
[Translation: to all expert colleagues, all voices, the mountains, the rivers, the treasure houses, greetings to all of you.]
Mr Chairperson, thank you for this opportunity to speak as the Commissioner Representative of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission on Item 5 of the agenda.
LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
A culture’s visual and verbal language embodies the history, values and traditions of a people. Language binds people together and with their environment. It enables the transfer of the culture from one generation to the next. It is the expression of individual and collective identity, of a distinctive worldview. It is a means of survival.
Maori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 is regarded as New Zealand’s founding document, an agreement made between the Crown (which in practical terms means the government) and rangatira, the leaders of Maori.
Since that signing, New Zealand’s history has been marked by wideranging failure to honour the founding promises.
However, in 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was established as a permanent commission of inquiry, to investigate and make nonbinding recommendations about breaches of the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.
21 years ago, a “claim” was made by 6 iwi (tribes) to the Waitangi Tribunal about the preservation of matauranga – the unique Maori way of viewing the world.
This claim, known as Wai 262, asked who owns or controls the practice of Maori culture and language, identity and traditional knowledge in contemporary New Zealand law, and government policy and practice.
In July 2011, the Wai 262 report, known as “Ko Aotearoa Tēnei” (This is Aotearoa) was finally published.
The Tribunal’s 1000 page report included government and private sector activity from genetic modification to bio-prospecting, intellectual property rights, Māori healing systems and the Māori language. The Tribunal’s recommendations are wide-ranging and detailed though non- binding, and seek to express a Treaty partnership in which Māori have a meaningful voice.To date the New Zealand Government has not responded to the report but advises that it is currently working towards this.
The report makes specific recommendations relating to te reo Maori (the Māori language). Contemporary institutions including Māori educational institutions and Māori radio and television contribute to the revitalisation of Maori language and culture today. However,currently there is a real fear for the survival of te reo Maori. There is a decline in Maori children attending Kohanga Reo, which are pre-schools that teach Maori language and culture to children and their parents.
The New Zealand government has acted positively in many ways but the type of support and adequacy of funding for language initiatives has not always been appropriate or secure. As the Wai 262 report notes ‘there has been a failure of partnership, with Maori lacking meaningful input into (let alone control of) the key decisions being made about their own language”.
Teachers are also now more likely to be second language learners rather than natural speakers with a diversity of tribal dialects. Preservation of distinctly Maori language and culture requires preservation of the diversity between Maori.
Significantly, this year the Tribunal has held an urgent inquiry into a Kōhanga Reo movement claim of discrimination by the Ministry of Education because the pedagogy used for teaching Māori children is not recognised and protocols not consistent with the purpose of Kohanga Reo are being imposed. Elders are not formally recognised as teachers so they are not funded as mainstream teachers are. If discrimination of this kind is confirmed, it would be a breach of the minimum standards expressed in Article 14 of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
As a National Human Rights Institution, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission pursues its responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi and international law to protect and promote te reo Maori.
As noted in the Commission’s submission in February 2012 to this expert mechanism, the Commission has worked actively for the past decade with the relevant government agencies on the promotion and recognition of te reo Maori. In 2007, the Human Rights Commission published a statement on language policy that called for a national languages policy and specific strategies for te reo Maori. This call was renewed in the Commission’s review of human rights in 2010.
So let me finish by quoting from “Ko Aotearoa Tēnei”. “Te Reo Māori ... is the platform upon which mātauranga Māori stands, and the means by which Māori culture and identity are expressed. Without it, that identity – indeed the very existence of Māori as a distinct people – would be compromised.”
Thank you for your attention, sisters and brothers.
No reira, tena koutou katoa [And finally, greetings to you all]
Commissioner Karen Johansen,
New Zealand Human Rights Commission