Sharples bristles at idea tribes allowed language to decline in first place.
A new bill that will change how te reo Maori is safeguarded will have its first reading in Parliament this week.
Outgoing Minister of Maori Affairs Dr Pita Sharples says the bill will create a new entity known as Te Matawai, which gives power back to iwi, but opponents hold concerns about the arrangement.
Crown entities Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori (the Maori Language Commission) and Te Mangai Paho (the Maori broadcasting funder) would come under the governance of the iwi-led Te Matawai, which would appoint boards for both. It would also absorb the role of Te Putahi Paoho, meaning it will co-govern Maori Television alongside the Crown.
The changes, sought by Dr Sharples since 2010, are being made to halt the decline of te reo Maori. Last year's Census figures showed the number of people speaking the language had dropped from 24 per cent in 2006 to 21 per cent.
Dr Sharples said the new entity, which had the support of Ngapuhi and Waikato Tainui, would strengthen the different agencies and ultimately all iwi.
"The main change is I have removed the minister out of all of this decision-making at the top level and given it over to iwi by setting up Te Matawai and giving them the minister's role."
He said getting "this basically Pakeha-thinking Government" to accept such a change had "been half the battle, getting them into that frame of mind".
If the Te Matawai bill passes, iwi representatives from each of the seven dialectal regions will lead the different agencies.
Maori language organisations will choose a further three representatives and the Maori Affairs Minister will make two crown appointments.
"We have had some non-Maori ministers in the past who have made some uninformed decisions on certain things so you can't rely on ministers ... so it's about handing it back to the people."
Dr Sharples said iwi involvement was important because regional differences and nuances would be retained and enhanced under the new structure.
He bristled at suggestions that iwi had allowed the reo to decline.
"A whole generation of parents were punished for speaking Maori - so they never spoke to their children in Maori."
Te Matawai will set the direction of the strategy of the agencies (Te Mangai Paho, Te Taura Whiri) The agencies themselves make their own funding decisions.
Professor Timoti Karetu believed Te Taura Whiri and Te Mangai Paho were doing a good job and he couldn't see how Te Matawai was an improvement but there was uncertainty around iwi representation. He also believed had iwi previously done more to retain the language, Maori would not be fighting for survival.
Te Putahi Paoho chairman Willie Jackson said the changes were well-intentioned, but Te Matawai was romantic nonsense.
"I get what he's trying to do, he's putting all his eggs in one basket in terms of the tribes saving the kaupapa [idea] - but they weren't interested in the kaupapa in the first place."
Supermarket checks out te reo
If you're out shopping this week, keep an eye out for heihei, ika, tihi or riwai.
Potatoes, cheese, fish, chicken, apple, toothpaste and shampoo are among 38 different foods Countdown has translated into Maori in its supermarket aisles this week.
Student Sonya Burgess, 18, was shopping at an Auckland Countdown and said the idea was a good way to help tourists learn some of the language.
"A lot of tourists come here so it's good for them to see the signs as well as locals," she said.
Brooke Merrick, 19, who is also a student, said the phonetic pronunciations were a big help, too.
Countdown's managing director, Dave Chambers, said the signs were a great opportunity for shoppers to connect with the Maori language.
"I encourage everyone to have a go at using these words and celebrate the week."
- Zizi Sparks
Words of the day
• Auckland - Tamaki-makau-rau
• Hamilton - Kirikiriroa
• Wellington - Te Whanganui-a-Tara
• Christchurch - Otautahi
• Dunedin - Otepoti
Source: Maori Language Commission.