Māori Language Week has become a familiar fixture in the national calendar and so have the exercises it involves. An article may appear, with a translation, and broadcasts may include a word or phrase of the day. Political parties (or most of them) declare their support for the survival of the language and at least one of them will renew their commitment to making it part of the school curriculum, avoiding the word "compulsory".
Yesterday the Green Party reaffirmed its wish to make te reo Māori "a core curriculum topic in all schools by 2025", or at least, "work with the education sector on a plan to make the language a core curriculum subject." But its significant that the announcement was made by only one of its co-leaders, Marama Davidson, and MP Chloe Swarbrick, neither of them ministers in the Government. The Greens might have no difficulty convincing its Labour partner to put te reo into the compulsory core curriculum but it is too much for New Zealand First.
A few months ago Winston Peters barked at Labour's Māori Development Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, and Employment Minister Willie Jackson for advocating compulsory te reo in schools. It was not Government policy and they should "get on the same page", he said. Peters' fellow minister, Shane Jones, who speaks Māori, said, "We are not antagonistic to the reo but we know that if we move straight into any sort of compulsion, Anglo boils and warts will emerge."
As on most things, NZ First is behind the times. The "Anglo boils and warts" might erupt among NZ First supporters but it bears remembering, they comprised just 7.2 per cent of voters at the last election. The only thing really holding back the Māori language from becoming a core subject in the curriculum is the availability of a sufficient number of teachers proficient in the language.
That shortage has been recognised for many years and not much has been done about it. Not much is likely to be done until a government embraces a target such as the Green's are promoting. If all primary schools were obliged to provide te reo by 2025 we would begin to see some action. Seven years is time enough for bilingual teachers to be trained and many more existing teachers to learn the language.
Launching Māori Language Week, the Prime Minister visited Wellington High School yesterday where a student asked whether she though this country would ever have a Prime Minister who could speak Māori. She said she wished she could have been the first.
She should have been the first. Jacinda Ardern was at school in the 1990s. By then, the value of an indigenous language was well recognised. Māori culture and some words and phrases had become part of the fabric of primary classrooms. Kapa haka were performed with vim and pride by most secondary schools.
When the Prime Minister says one of her biggest regrets is not being able to converse in te reo, older New Zealanders should feel guilt. Her generation should be equipped with this country's unique language and she should make sure the next one does not miss out.