Sir Toby Curtis feels te reo is still being oppressed.
But despite that, the prominent Te Arawa kaumatua says Rotorua is on the right track to revitalising the language.
It comes as the country celebrates Maori Language Week with a number of nationwide initiatives to push the use of everyday te reo.
Sir Toby, who was knighted for his service to Maori education, feels oppression of the language remains today.
"I'm immensely heartened by Pakeha that say they want to learn te reo and make it the predominant language, but it has still continued to be oppressed for 176 years underneath successive governments," he said.
Local man Billy Macfarlane, who mentors Maori prisoners in te reo, believes Rotorua is doing well.
"I think progress is being made, especially seeing our children speaking te reo at school because they're the next generation," he said.
Cultural adviser at Te Puia, Taparoto Nicholson, also believes progress is being made with local youth as well as on a national scale outside of the curriculum.
"There are kids in some schools who are asking to learn te reo which is really good.
"It's also the little things like Jack Tame saying morena on the Breakfast show which helps bring attention to the language," he said.
However both Mr Macfarlane and Mr Nicholson think Maori Language Week is not the silver bullet for improving the progression of te reo in Rotorua and the rest of the country.
"I think Maori Language Week is a bit of a token gesture and the mindset should really be that every day is a Maori language day," Mr Macfarlane said.
"I think it places lofty aspirations that the country should only recognise te reo for one week, however, any effort is an effort of support," Mr Nicholson added.
Mr Macfarlane feels working with Maori prisoners is a step in the right direction.
"There's a high rate of Maori in prison and most of them are out of touch and don't speak te reo.
"If you can't understand the language then you can't fully understand the culture," Mr McFarlane said.
Sir Toby feels disregarding te reo will only cause more damage.
"If we ignore the language, we are ignoring the heart, the brain and the spirit of Maori."