Wairoa on path to become New Zealand's first bilingual town

By Victoria White -
Implementing a new te reo Maori policy puts Wairoa on track to becoming the first bilingual town in NZ. Photo / File
Implementing a new te reo Maori policy puts Wairoa on track to becoming the first bilingual town in NZ. Photo / File

Wairoa is on the way to being one of the country's first bilingual towns, with the district council yesterday adopting a new policy to encourage the use of te reo Maori.

Yesterday, the council voted to implement the Te Kaupapa Here mo Te Reo Maori ke Te Kaunihera o Te Wairoa (the Wairoa District Council Te Reo Maori policy) which would then go to residents for public consultation.

The policy - one of the first of its kind - is another step toward the district becoming fully bilingual by 2040 - which the council committed to in 2012 under the joint-agency Te Wairoa Reorua 2040 initiative.

Wairoa has the highest proportion of Maori of any local authority area in New Zealand, and a higher than average number of te reo Maori speakers.

Under the policy the everyday use of the language will be encouraged, and promoted through the council.

Council signs around the district will gradually become bilingual - with the order being Maori first, English second - and the council will be encouraging staff to speak te reo Maori, and using the language in its communications hui, and day-to-day council operations.

By adopting the policy, Wairoa mayor Craig Little said he thought their council would be at the forefront of local authorities promoting the use of te reo Maori.

"It's an exciting time and its been a long time coming, there's been a lot of work being the scenes with [our] Maori standing committee," he said.

While the policy would be a point of difference for the Northern Hawke's Bay district, Mr Little said for their council, it was just "business as usual".

Council's Maori standing committee chair Kiwa Hammond said the policy was designed to foster positive attitudes and values about te reo Maori among staff, so its use became a valued part of the organisation.

This policy signified the council's commitment to the language and acknowledged the important status of te reo Maori in the community.

"Wairoa has arguably led the bilingual town conversation over the past five years and continues to lead in terms of local government policy development," he said.

"I applaud any other district that promotes the use of te reo Maori. This isn't a competition, because at the end of the day, the real winner is te reo Maori."

Ngati Kahungunu Iwi incorporated chair Ngahiwi Tomoana could not be reached for comment.

Two other cities, Otaki and Rotorua, are also making moves toward becoming bilingual.

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