Be brave - speak te reo Māori.

Haami Piripi says that is the way to strengthen the language.

"That's what it comes down to, if you're not speaking Māori you're speaking English," he said.

The Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa chairman from the Far North was chief executive of the Māori Language Commission from 2000 to 2007, and is passionate about te reo Māori.


"One of my mentors was Sir James Henare and he always said that it is not possible to fully explain or comprehend the cultural depth of anything unless it's within your own language."

This week is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori - Māori Language Week. The theme this year is 'Kia Kaha te reo Māori' and is all about making the language strong.

Piripi said Māori Language Week began in 1975 after a Māori language petition by Nga Tamatoa was delivered to Parliament in 1972 asking that te reo be taught at school and recognised as an official language.

"In response to that, the Government came up with the Māori Language Act, established the Māori Language Commission, the legal status of the language, and the ability to include it in the school curriculum. And that's when it really started to grow," he said.

Piripi was immersed in te reo Māori growing up.

"I grew up living next door to my marae so I spent more time there basically. The language was there so I was able to learn the quality of language and it's beauty so I always had a love and a passion and a desire for it," he said.

Piripi said there has been a change in attitudes towards te reo Māori in the past 20 years.

"It has definitely become more acceptable and maybe novel even. But at the same time there's also been a hardening by some communities on the edges because some people don't really see the value in it. But I think what's happening now is non-Māori are beginning to see the value in it and when that happens you start to see more support and acceptance."


You only need to look at enrolment statistics for te reo classes at Te Wananga o Aotearoa (TWoA) and NorthTec to see demand has grown.

In 2014, 682 people - 478 Māori and 204 non-Māori - signed up for te reo courses at TWoA's Northland campus. It increased each year, reaching 1376 enrolments - 915 Māori and 461 non-Maori - in 2017 and this year there has been 1358 enrolments so far with more rolling in.

The same growth has been seen at NorthTec with 229 enrolments for te reo courses in 2014 compared to 541 in 2017, and 507 this year to date

Piripi said it had been exciting watching more people accept te reo Māori.

"For me it's a bit of a dream come true. The more people that accept and embrace the language as a part of their lives, it means they're embracing me, my whānau and my people."