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Seeds of change

From the 1970s many Māori people reasserted their identity as Māori.  An emphasis on the language as an integral part of Māori culture was central to this identity. 

Increasingly Māori leaders were recognising the danger that the Māori language would be lost. New groups with a commitment to strengthening Māori culture and language emerged in the cities.

A national hui held in Wellington in 1979.  Elders representing most of the Māori tribes & sub-tribes throughout New Zealand gathered to discuss and agree on solutions to retain the Māori language for the next generations.

The following year another national hui was held in Ngaruawāhia, Hamilton and Te Kōhanga Reo was born. 

It was decided that whānau and their tamariki from conception to 6 years of age were the appropriate and most effective age group to revitalise Te Reo Māori me onā tikanga.

In 1981 the then Department of Māori Affairs, currently known as the Ministry of Māori Development or Te Puni Kōkiri, agreed to ‘pilot’ a Kōhanga Reo.

On  April 13th 1982, the very first Te Kōhanga Reo located at Pukeatua in Wainuiomata, Wellington was opened followed quickly by four more government funded Kōhanga Reo in Waiwhetu, Kōkiri Seaview and Maraeroa, in Wellington, and Orakei in Auckland.

By April 1983, 112 Te Kōhanga Reowere opened and operational throughout the country



Māori Affairs adopted the philosphy of Tū Tangata – aimed to establish Māori cultural values.  Kohanga Reo was one initiative that started from this.


Kaumātua Wānangā

The apparent demise of the Māori Language, a growing concern causes alarm and urgent consideration.


Hui Kaumātua

Convened by the Department of Māori Affairs, affirmed the importance of the language for mana māori. 

“Ko Te Reo te mauri o te Mana Māori”


Wānanga Whakatauira

Elders attending agreed that the time had come for Māoridom to take control for the future destiny of the language and to plan for its survival.  An elder stated:

“Whanau ana te tamaiti, me rarau atu, whakamau ki te u, kei reira ka timata i te korero Maori”

“When the child is born, take it, put it to the breast and begin speaking Māori at that point”. (Ibid) Ref: Government Review Team, 1988:18


Wānanga Whakatauira

A resolution was passed requesting the Department of Māori Affairs to focus on language as the top policy priority for that year.

Hui Whakatauira. A Resolution was passed confirming the necessity of Maori language retention “through a system of bi-lingual pre-school programmes”.

Te Kōhanga Reo pilot programme established at Pukeatua late 1981, as a total immersion “pre-school” programme

Sir James Henare (Te Tai Tokerau) – Chairperson, Tilly Reedy (Ngati Porou)- Secretary and John Rangihau (Tūhoe) formed a small working group that coined the name Te Kōhanga Reo.


  • January/February


Kōhanga Reo aims to arrest the decline of Māori speaking people by providing a whānau Māori environment in which mokopuna and tamariki are raised in order to

(i) foster the child's capacity to speak Māori after 5 years exposure in a Te Kōhanga Reo environment.


  • March


Te Kōhanga Reo approved as a 1982/83 new policy for the operation of 5 Whānau Centres.

Pukeatua - Wainuiomata, Wellington  (1) 12 April 1982

Orakei - Tāmaki Makaurau

Kokiri - Seaview Wellington

Waiwhetu - Lower Hutt Wellington

Maraeroa - Porirua Wellington

CCX directed government officials of Māori Affairs, Health, Social Welfare, Education to provide a report by 28 February 1983.


  • April

First Te Kōhanga Reo, Pukeatua, opened.  Wainuiomata.


  • May 

Department of Māori Affairs, Education, Social Welfare and Health acting on instructions from Cabinet, set up the National Officials Co-ordinating Group whose role was to monitor the progress of the first five pilot Kōhanga Reo.

Ref: Government Review Team, 1988:12


  • December

50 Kōhanga Reo had opened in the first year, with many more in development.

Ref: Government Review Team, 1988:19

Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust was established to act as trustee of the kaupapa of Te Kōhanga Reo, acting on behalf of the people.

Government Review Team, 1988:28


  • April

83 Kōhanga Reo established through whānau Māori commitment

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust Ad Hoc: Sets up to respond to the needs of Te Kohanga Reo Whānau groups.


  • May

CCX Interim Report submitted:  national official group charged with making final report by 29 February 1984.


  • June

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust Certificate Syllabus is put together “Blue Book".

Wage Worker Scheme funding allocated Te Kōhanga Reo Logo design


  • July

Tū Tangata Wānanga Whakatauira

“Closing the Gap”. Māori language and “The People”

Proposal: That the Maori people be asked to establish at least 300 whanau centres over the next two years in which Te Kōhanga Reo programmes will be provided for some 6,500 Māori children born each year.

The Proposal was unanimously accepted by the Wānanga Whakatauira.


  • December

170 Kohanga Reo now set up.

 Ref: Government Review Team, 1988:19

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust - Board Members

Tamati Reedy Secretary of Dept Māori Affairs

Iritana Tawhiwhirangi CEO of Maori Affairs Dept

Ruka Broughton Senior Lecturer Māori Studies Victoria University

John Bennett Chair Māori Education Foundation

Wiremu Kaa Director of Māori and Island Education




  • January

First National Te Kōhanga Reo Hui- Ngaruawāhia- Over 1000 people attended

Establishment of Te Kōhanga Reo Trust approved “Charitable Trust Act 1957”

“Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust”

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust Certificate Syllabus approved


  • June

Te Kohanga Reo National programme computerised.

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust negotiates partnership with Department Māori Affairs


  • July

​​​​​​​Te Kōhanga Reo sets up 10 Trust Training Branches.

291 Te Kōhanga Reo, over 4000 children, 90 proposed to be established

Hui with Minister of Education.


  • August

​​​​​​​Te Kōhanga Reo Trust meets with the Minister of Māori Affairs Koro Wetere

Proposed Development:

·        Consolidation of Training branches to continue

·        Te Kōhanga Reo Health and Te Kōhanga Reo Training programmes

·        Māori language acquisition of Te Kōhanga Reo children to be surveyed and Data computerised.

·        Update:

·        295 Te Kōhanga Reo operating

·        105 proposed kōhanga Reo

·        11 Te Kōhanga Reo licenced under Department of Social Welfare.

·        4500 tamariki involved in Kōhanga Reo

·        2360 volunteers


  • October

​​​​​​​National Official Co-ordinating group asked by Cabinet to report to its Social Equity Committee on the future development of the Te Kōhanga Reo movement.

Government Review Team, 1988:12


  • December

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​269  Kōhanga Reo operating

 Government Review Team, 1988:19


  • June

$2.5million from budget $5000 Koha grant to existing Kōhanga Reo and $5000

establishment grant to new Te Kōhanga Reo.

Early Childhood Workers Union speaks to Trust, Trust agrees that the “Union” of Te Kōhanga Reo is the whānau.

53 Training Branches established, 1022 trainees in Kōhanga Reo


  • August

- 10 Tangata Whenua computers purchased (Amiga), stage one training at the computer centre, Lower Hutt.

- Te Kōhanga Reo Trust, approves purchase of Aotearoa Broadcasting System




  • January

Budget announcement of $9.1 million 1986,$11.1 million 1987,$11.1 million 1988.

- Te Kōhanga Reo meets at Porirua Aparangi Resource Centre


  • April

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust Meeting – Poroporoaki Trust Member Mr Ruka Broughton


  • May

Trust meets with TVNZ to discuss video and television resources for Te Kōhanga Reo


  • June

 - 433 Te Kōhanga Reo

 - 260 Marae Based, remainder share Kokiri, community halls and school buildings.

- Average charge is $18 with approx 18 in each centre

- 8100 mokopuna attend Te Kōhanga Reo

- Strong Kaumātua and Whānau support.


  • September


Combined hui with TVNZ, Department Māori Affairs and Department of Education to develop Te Kōhanga Reo programmes and Te Waka Huia programmes.

30 Te Reo Video programmes by N Pewhairangi and K Mataira seen on TV will be given to all Kōhanga Reo and Training Branches who have TV/ Video units.


  • TKR Hui Turangawaewae: Terms of reference finalised by the Social Equity Committee of the Cabinet for a review of the Te Kōhanga Reo movement. 

    Terms of reference finalised by the Social Equity Committee of the Cabinet for a review of the Te Kōhanga Reo movement.

    ·        To describe Māori Development and the place of Te kōhanga Reo within it

    ·        To clarify the goals and objectives for Te Kōhanga Reo;

    ·        To examine and report on the special cultural dimension that may be particular to Te Kōhanga Reo;

    ·        To examine and report on the extent of whānau commitment and support for Te Kōhanga Reo;

    ·        To consider accountability to both the whānau/community and the Government;

    ·        To describe the place of Te Kōhanga Reo in early childhood care and education;

    ·        To report on the links between Kōnanga Reo and schools.


  • John Rangihau – Deputy Chairperson Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust

  • Te Okanga Huata – Deputy Chairperson Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust

  • Technology unit emerged – 1st wānanga held at Turangawaewae Kōhanga Reo

  • 512 Kohanga Reo now operating. 





  • 11 District Taurima Teams established.  Local and District Tino Rangatiratanga units established.

  • Government Review of Kōhanga Reo report submitted.

  • 521 Kohanga Reo now operating.  


  • Letter from Kōhanga  National Trust to dis-establish Local TRU branches and Taurima support teams.

    Department of Māori Affairs devolved

    Establishment of Tino Rangatiratanga training units


Kōhanga Reo are Transferred to the new Ministry of Education

Property Putea initiated

Kōhanga reo work towards licencing

Memorandum of Agreement between the Trust, Ministry of Māori Affairs and the Ministry of Education, which acknowledges the autonomy of the movement and the importance of consultation on any new government policies.

Ministry of Education advertise contract to develop an EC curriculum with “An Aotearoa Flavour”

MOE call for tenders to develop ‘curriculum guideline for ECE services’

Waikato University (Dr Helen May & Margret Carr) approach the National Trust to join them and develop a curriculum

Te Kōhanga Reo host the World Indigenous People’s conference