Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori: Te Reo Māori and Mātauranga Māori

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori poster

Ko Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori tēnei. For Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, and because it’s my last week as editor of Thesislink, I thought I’d share some more about my own research. As you may remember if you’ve been following previous posts, my research investigated now non-Māori librarians in Aotearoa New Zealand learn about and engage with mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge). Of all the many findings from my interviews with non-Māori librarians and focus groups with Māori librarians, Te Reo Māori came through as a key way of learning about and engaging with Māori culture and knowledge more broadly. A lot of the non-Māori I spoke to had been proactive in looking for ways to expand their cultural knowledge, and many of those chose Te Reo as a medium for that.

Below is a short extract from my PhD thesis. If you would like to know more, you can find the full thesis at researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/handle/10063/9167. While the participants in my research were librarians, many of the findings may be applicable to engagement with Māori knowledge beyond the realm of libraries.


Te Reo Māori and Mātauranga Māori

“Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori.

The language is the core of our Māori culture and mana.”

(Sir James Henare, as quoted in Waitangi Tribunal, 2011, p. 151)

“Te reo Māori is a taonga[1]. It is the platform upon which mātauranga Māori stands, and the means by which Māori culture and identity are expressed. Without it, that identity – indeed the very existence of Māori as a distinct people – would be compromised.”

(Waitangi Tribunal, 2011, p. 154)

A key issue that stood out across both interviews and focus groups was the centrality of Te Reo Māori. Te Reo Māori featured throughout discussions of mātauranga Māori in the interviews, either through formal attempts at learning the Māori language or engaging with language in other ways such as constructing a mihi or considering bilingual signage or other customer-facing materials. Te Reo also featured prominently in focus group discussions, in numerous examples of current engagement, potential future engagement, and also in terms of the Barriers faced by non-Māori who wish to learn the language.

The literature confirms the important place of Indigenous languages within their cultures and knowledge systems. Zuckermann (2014) highlights the connection between language and community identity, and emphasises that language is a connection to ancestors.

This is also the case in Aotearoa, with Te Reo Māori playing a vital role in the Io-matua-te-kore[2] (supreme being) version of Māori cosmogony (Love, 2004).

This reflects concepts found in other languages also, for example, the Welsh proverb “cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb gallon” – “A nation without a language is a nation without a heart” (quoted in Glyn, 2019). Language is also central to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example Article 13:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.”

(United Nations, 2007, p. Article 13)

This literature puts a very strong emphasis on the connection between language, culture and knowledge. Because of the close relationship between libraries and librarians and Indigenous knowledge, it follows that the library profession and by extension individual librarians have a duty of care to the language at the heart of mātauranga Māori. This also ties in with the social justice orientation that a lot of librarians are inclined towards (Pateman & Vincent, 2010; Samek, 2007) in that the language is in danger – UNESCO (2013) classifies Te Reo Māori as being vulnerable, although this is based on data from 2000 and speaker numbers have increased since then – and many believe it requires the non-Māori population of Aotearoa to get involved to ensure its long term survival (Stephens, 2014) which was something that was also raised by some interviewees and focus group participants.


[1] treasure, anything prized (all definitions of Māori words are taken from https://maoridictionary.co.nz/ unless stated otherwise)

[2] There are two main creation narratives in Māori cosmogony: The separation of the Earth Mother (Papatūānuku) and Sky Father (Ranginui), and the creation by a supreme being called Io. For more information, see Royal (2005b).


Glyn, I. (2019). Heart of the nation. Retrieved from https://www.wales.com/en-us/about/language/heart-nation

Love, C. (2004). Extensions on Te Wheke (Working Papers No. 6-04). Retrieved from https://repository.openpolytechnic.ac.nz/handle/11072/182

Pateman, J., & Vincent, J. (2010). Public libraries and social justice. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

Royal, T. A. C. (2005b). Māori creation traditions. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/maori-creation-traditions/print

Samek, T. (2007). Librarianship and human rights: A twenty-first century guide. Oxford: Chandos.

Stephens, M. (2014). In praise of … Pākehā learning and teaching te reo Māori. Retrieved from https://sparrowhawkkarearea.com/2014/07/24/in-praise-ofpakeha-learning-and-teaching-te-reo-maori/

UNESCO. (2013). UNESCO interactive atlas of the world’s languages in danger: Maori. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/en/atlasmap/language-id-702.html

United Nations. (2007). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html

Waitangi Tribunal. (2011). Ko Aotearoa Tēnei: Te taumata tuatahi. Retrieved from https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/Documents/WT/wt_DOC_68356054/KoAotearoaTeneiTT1W.pdf

Zuckermann, G. (2014). Historical and moral arguments for language reclamation. In H. Murphy, C. Buchanan, W. Nuku, & B. Ngaia (Eds.), Enhancing mātauranga Māori and global Indigenous knowledge (pp. 182-195). Wellington: New Zealand Qualifications Authority.


So how can we get involved? The great news is that there is a lot of mahi being done around AUT to help people learn the Māori language. Te Ara Poutama offers short courses for those wanting to learn Te Reo, from beginners to more advanced: https://www.aut.ac.nz/study/study-options/maori-and-indigenous-development/courses/te-reo-maori-courses.

AUT has been involved in the design and development of two Māori language apps. Kupu allows you to take photos to find the Māori words for objects. Kōrerorero is a language learning app suitable for all the family.

AUT’s own Hēmi Kelly, a Lecturer in Te Ara Poutama, has published two great books for learners of Te Reo: A Māori Word a Day and A Māori Phrase a Day. Hēmi also runs a Facebook group called A Māori Phrase a Day with videos explaining aspects of Te Reo Māori.

Kia kaha Te Reo Māori!

About Kathryn Oxborrow

Dr Kathryn Oxborrow is the temporary Researcher Development Coordinator at AUT's Graduate Research School. In her PhD research she investigated how non-Māori librarians in Aotearoa learn about and engage with Māori knowledge in their lives and work. Kathryn is originally from the UK and moved to New Zealand in 2010.

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