Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis is questioning how a new group established to promote te reo Maori will be able to serve the interests of Northland hapu and iwi when there is only one space for a Northland representative on the board.

Te Matawai is an independent statutory body established under the Maori Language Bill to provide leadership in promoting the health and well-being of te reo Maori and absorb the role of Te Putahi Paoho - the electoral college of Maori Television that represents Maori stakeholder interests in the Maori Television Service.

The board will comprise 13 members, seven of whom will represent the seven iwi clusters, including Te Tai Tokerau/Tamaki.

However Mr Davis, who is also a member of the Maori Affairs Committee, said he was concerned the Bill allowed only one representative on Te Matawai for all Maori north of Auckland.


With 16 iwi listed north of Auckland and Ngapuhi alone divided into 86 hapu - many with their own kohanga reo and language strategies - Mr Davis questioned how one representative could serve all interests.

"Te Kapotai, for example, have their own kohanga reo and special charter kura - how are their needs going to be catered to by Te Matawai?" he said.

"Let's say there are a dozen students studying te reo Maori at Kerikeri High School, how is Te Matawai going to double that number? That's my concern."

Mr Davis said every three years the country lost about 1 per cent or more of fluent te reo Maori speakers. It was important that number increased.

While much of the Bill was dedicated to reorganising the agencies responsible for te reo, originally it made no mention of aiming to increase the number of te reo speakers or their fluency. That was begrudgingly added in the select committee process, Mr Davis added.

"I get a sinking feeling that we're just going through the motions of doing something when it's not going to have any effect. If this Bill isn't going to improve the number of speakers or their fluency, what are we doing it for?"

Former Maori Language commissioner and Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said Te Matawai would be good for iwi and believed one or two representatives from Northland would suffice.

"It's not about numbers, it is about linguistic integrity," he said. "This is the first opportunity the Government has given iwi to really have a say.

"They have passed the baton of language over to iwi to take full responsibility," he said.

Mr Davis said Labour's Maori Caucus was not trying to change the Bill but was doing it out of love for the language.