In 28 July 2011 the National Kōhanga Reo Trust filed a claim under urgency with the Waitangi Tribunal, Wai 2336.
It was to be the final straw after years of non commitment by successive Governments and policy makers, Kōhanga reo simply had enough.
The catalyst was when in October 2010, following approval from Cabinet, the then Minister of Education, the Honourable Anne Tolley, established an advisory taskforce on early childhood education (known as the ECE Taskforce).
After inquiring into all areas of ECE including Kōhanga Reo, the taskforce released its report on 1st July 2011. The report titled, An Agenda for Amazing Children – Final Report of the ECE Taskforce (theECE TaskforceReport), made 65 wide-ranging recommendations, a number of which indirectly or directly impacted on the Trust and kōhanga reo.
The problem was that the Kaitiaki of Kōhanga Reo, the National Trust Board were not consulted in regards to this report despite its contribution to early childhood care and whānau development.
The claimants, Takuta Timoti Karetu, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and Tina Olsen-Ratana filed a claim on behalf of the Kōhanga Reo whanau with the Waitangi Tribunal. The cause for urgency was that the ECE Taskforce Report and the potential development of Government policy that would be drafted from that report would affect the operation and support of kōhanga reo and would seriously comprise the kaupapa of Kōhanga reo .
The claimants also stated that there was a risk of imminent harm arising from the ECE Taskforce Report in the form of reputational damage caused to the Trust and kōhanga reo and that, as a consequence, enrolments at Kōhanga reo and the number of future te reo Māori speakers would decrease.
This alarming trend of decreasing enrolments and the number of Kōhanga Reo was not lost to the claimants, but rather was the undercurrent for a stance to be made to stem the ebbing tide.
A brief of evidence and accompanying appendices were filed the same day by Tina Olsen-Ratana and Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi . On the 25th July 2011 thousands of kohanga whanau, lead by Te Ariki Kingi Tuheitia walked up the terrace to the office of the Waitangi Tribunal to deliver the Te Kohanga Reo National Trusts Boards claim for an urgent hearing. At the office of the Waitangi Tribunal, supported by Kaumatua from around the motu the Board and legal counsel Mai Chen presented the Kohanga case for urgency on the 17th and 18th August 2011.
The Tribunal heard the Kohanga plea, and agreed there was indeed a case to be heard. Commencing on the 12th March 2012 over three weeks at Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Head Office in Wellington thousands of Kaumatua and Kohanga whanau relived the grievances of 30 years.
In October 2012, Te Kōhanga National Trust Board received the report of the Waitangi Tribunal, Matua Rautia, marking the conclusion of the Trust Board’s urgent claim to the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of Kohanga whanau.
The Report vindicates the claims of Te Kōhanga Reo and its decision to take an urgent claim to the Tribunal. It acknowledges that Te reo Maori is in a perilous state, and that Kōhanga Reo is inexplicably linked to the preservation of te reo as a living language. . The report is historic. Never before has a Tribunal report recommended that an interim independent advisor oversee and implement the Tribunal’s recommendations who will be appointed by, and report directly to[TR2] , the Prime Minister. This demonstrates the significance of the Kōhanga report.
The Tribunal said that the Treaty of Waitangi protects the right of Maori to choose their cultural path. Kōhanga Reo is a result of Maori choice. It is the preferred vehicle to transmit Te Reo Maori. The Treaty requires Kohanga to be funded equitably with the western model of teacher led ECE. Otherwise, the Tribunal said there is a “looming disaster in the ability of kohanga reo to function” and there is “the very real prospect that effectively a third of the kohanga reo operations will have to cease.”
The Tribunal has found that the Government’s policy does not adequately provide for the unique role and contribution of Kōhanga.
The Tribunal upheld the Trust Board’s claims. Its key findings and recommendations are that the Crown:
- Through the Prime Minister, appoint an interim independent advisor to oversee the implementations of the Tribunal’s recommendations and to redevelop the engagement between government agencies and the Trust;
- The Tribunal supports the Trust and the Crown’s consideration of separate legislative recognition for kohanga reo, but “in the meantime, the Crown will need to ensure that funding support for kohanga reo is provided.”
- Through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the independent advisor, oversees and facilitates the urgent completion of a work programme developed by the Trust Board and the Crown in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement.
- Through the Ministry of Education and Te Puni Kōkiri, discusses and collaborates with the Trust to research the effects and impacts of the kōhanga reo model including how to support and build on the contribution that kōhanga reo make to language transmission and Māori educational success as Māori.
- Through the Ministry of Education, Te Puni Kōkiri, and the Trust, informs Māori whānau of the relative benefits for mokopuna in attending kōhanga reo with respect to te reo Māori and education outcomes. They should also be informed of the importance of bilingual/immersion programmes if te reo Māori is to survive as a living language.
- Formally acknowledges and apologises to the Trust and kōhanga reo for the failure of its ECE polices to sufficiently provide for kōhanga reo. In making such an acknowledgement and apology the Crown should also agree to meet the reasonable legal expenses of the Trust in bringing this claim.
View the Report over at www.justice.govt.nz