Ngāi Te Rangi Settlements Trust chairman Charlie Tawhiao filed the claim on Monday on behalf of the trust and iwi, alleging actions undertaken and policies announced by the coalition Government “attack and undermine the mana of Ngāi Te Rangi and of Te Ao Māori”.
These included ensuring public service departments had their primary name in English and requiring public service departments and Crown entities to communicate primarily in English, except for entities specifically related to Māori.
It also included Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency flipping its name to NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon confirmed he is aware of the tribunal claim.
It comes after more than 1000 people participated in a Ngāi Te Rangi iwi protest in Tauranga on Tuesday last week as part of Te Pāti Māori’s call for nationwide action against Government policies labelled “anti-Māori”.
Having to fight for te reo Māori in 2023 ‘abominable’
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley told the Bay of Plenty Times the claim was about tikanga and the alleged “underminings” of reo (language).
“The fact that we have to fight for our reo in 2023 is abominable … My parents fought for that and it’s enshrined in legislation.”
Stanley said this included changing the names of government departments, in his view, “without proper due process”.
He said he planned to contact the transport agency to ask how it, in his view, “got to go around legislation to change the name of [the] department”.
In his opinion: “Reo Rangatira is vitally important to us and any attempt to erode that, which is what this Government is doing whether intentionally or not, we have to challenge.”
Another example he gave was public servants who may not get paid bonuses for speaking te reo.
“You can get a bonus if you’ve got a Masters degree but you can’t get a bonus if you’ve got Reo Rangatira.”
NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi responds
A transport agency spokesman said the agency was taking “appropriate steps” to give effect to the Government’s policy that public service organisations should have their primary name in English.
“Our organisation has not changed its name. Waka Kotahi is the te reo Māori name for the NZ Transport Agency.”
In 2019 and 2020, steps were taken to give the Māori name “more prominence” and it had used both names since, but the legal name under the Land Transport Management Act had remained “New Zealand Transport Agency”.
Te reo Māori is not ‘irrelevant’
Tawhiao said “large numbers” of non-Māori people taking up te reo Māori lessons showed a preference for te reo Māori to be “an implicit feature of their New Zealand-ness”.
“The idea that te reo Māori is irrelevant … is somewhat of a misnomer.
“A dismissal of the reo is essentially a dismissal of the whole idea of Māori itself.”
Tawhiao said the negation of reo was akin to trying to either “eliminate us or assimilate us so that we’re barely discernible from anybody else”.
“Our whakapapa demands, and our history demands, that we defend our identity and our history, which are all wrapped up in the reo.”
What Ngāi Te Rangi’s claim to the Waitangi Tribunal says
The claim and associated documents, sighted by the Bay of Plenty Times, said it was against the National, Act and New Zealand First coalition Government for allegedly “undermining te reo Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi in breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and tikanga”.
It claimed the coalition agreements were “full of commitments in direct opposition to our mana and our people”, such as disestablishing Te Aka Whai Ora, the Māori Health Authority.
It also alleged the agreements were released “with no promises of any consultation or even engagement with Māori before the new polls and changes are implemented”.
The claim also stated: “We didn’t witness the restoration of our culture and language and recognition of our mana and tikanga just to see it be ripped away in a matter of weeks or months.
“We will insist on upholding our mana and mana motuhake [self-determination] as Māori and as Ngāi Te Rangi which is distinct from just being a ‘Kiwi’.”
It alleged the Government was implementing policy and practices “to remove and reduce the recognition and mana of te reo Māori” in the public service and in Aotearoa.
“But we are the tangata whenua of Aotearoa and all government institutions serve Māori whānau.”
The claim said te reo Māori was the core of Māori culture.
“This is why we have fought so hard to save te reo Māori from extinction.
“My [Tawhiao’s] parents’ generation encouraged us to speak English instead of the reo Māori as we were growing up so that we could get along in the world … it feels like we are now being [taken] back to that world.”
The claim said it wanted the tribunal to provide recommendations to the Government “to help them understand the importance of te reo Māori and the principles of Te Tiriti are already well defined and understood”.
It urgently sought a scheduled phone call hearing of the claim and a recommendation that no future “actions be taken undermining te reo Māori in breach of the principles of Te Tiriti and tikanga” until the issues had been reported on by the tribunal.
The Waitangi Tribunal confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times it had received Tawhiao’s claim. The tribunal will review the claim and seek Crown and any other interested party views on the urgent application before deciding whether to grant an urgent inquiry.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon aware of claim
At the post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Luxon said he was aware an urgent claim had been submitted with the Waitangi Tribunal regarding the threat of the Government’s policies regarding Māori issues.
His only comment was to say people should celebrate the use of te reo Māori, noting that he had always wanted to learn the language further.
Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.