Te Reo Maori Brutally Suppressed at Native Schools?
K R Bolton. 3056 Words
One of the myths that is perpetrated by the Europhobic version of New Zealand history is that the Crown brutally suppressed, especially with the use of corporal punishment, the speaking of Maori in the Native Schools. The aim we are told, was to totally eliminate the Maori language. For this colonialist, ‘white supremacist’, ‘racist’ act of what is called ‘linguicide’, the Crown (i.e., the New Zealand European) yet again, must be held morally and financially accountable, and this must include – yet again – an apology, in an apologetic cycle that never ends.
While there have been submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal that demand a Crown apology, and the Maori Language Act alludes to the moral responsibility of the Crown in suppressing Te Reo Maori, in recent days the former Minister of Maori Affairs, Dover Samuels, has urged that the Crown send a messenger of the Royal household, such a Prince William, to personally bend knee and kow-tow in regard to yet another fallacy of New Zealand history. Of course the state-kept news media, which relies on subsidises in exchange for a commitment to Maori interests, is not about to examine the matter with any actual research. One such news account states of the Samuels demand:
A former Labour government Māori Affairs Minister, Dover Samuels, is renewing calls for Māori to receive an official apology from the Crown, for the generation who were beaten for speaking Te Reo in school. … ‘Wouldn’t that be wonderful if she commissioned Prince William, the future king, to come down to Aotearoa - and apologise to the Māori nation – wouldn’t that be wonderful’. He said it would be ironic if the incoming Governor-General, Dame Cindy Kiro - who is Māori - was asked to make the apology and he would prefer it came from Prince William. 
Samuels recounted his own punishment at school for speaking Maori. Certain Waitangi Tribunal submissions, such as those from Taihape Maori recount harrowing experiences at schools. Contrary accounts receive no publicity. The reality is different from the state narrative. The colonial governments were eager to preserve Maori, and gradually conceded to Maori demands that the language be suppressed in favour of ‘full-immersion’ English. As for severe punishments there never was such a policy, but punishments were enacted locally at the instigation of Maori parents and elders and local Maori committees that controlled the Native Schools.
However, given the craven, self-deprecating attitude of Europeans, from the Royal Family downward, such an apology from the Royal Household would not at all be surprising. The groundwork has long been laid for the sustenance of the myth. The Maori Language Act (2016) unjustly places the responsibility for the suppression of the Maori language on the Crown:
The Crown acknowledges the detrimental effects of its past policies and practices that have, over the generations, failed actively to protect and promote the Māori language and encourage its use by iwi and Māori. 
The clause is nonsense. However it buttresses ongoing allegations. As one should expect submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal wax indignant on the use of corporal punishment for speaking Maori at schools. A submission in 2020 on behalf of Taihape Maori states:
The Crown engaged in a policy of linguicide soon after arrival in New Zealand. The death of te reo Māori was pre-meditated and it was engineered primarily through the education system. The Crown had terminated indigenous languages in other countries prior to its colonisation of Aotearoa New Zealand and so when it implemented the English-only rule in New Zealand classrooms, the Crown knew full well that te reo Māori would eventually fade from the planet. It was known that linguicide destroys languages, culture, identity, sanity, value systems and the sense of self- worth. It wreaks havoc in the interests of monolingualism and cultural and social homogeneity. Māori pupils were Europeanised and forced to speak English and if they didn’t, they were subjected to a regimen of violence. The Crown’s shocking engagement with linguicide warrants commensurate admonition by the Waitangi Tribunal and redress that will restore Taihape Māori to their former cultural and lingual state. 
Included are testimonies by individuals claiming to have been physically punished for speaking Maori at school, and to have suffered trauma. Again, one finds no recognition of Maori responsibility for demanding that English be imposed in the schools, and places responsibility entirely on the Crown, from which apologies and financial liabilities are sought.
Maoris Sought Language Suppression
However, some recent Maori scholarship has aimed to show that Maoris were not acquiescent victims. The contention, which the authors state is intended to be ‘provocative’, state that Maoris sought to empower themselves by demanding that their children be taught English so that they might take full advantage of European trade, commodities and technology, although it is too much to expect even from these heretical scholars that they concede anything to the European other than again condemning colonialism. The researchers state that the Maori chiefs and elders demanded the imposition of the English language in schools. Since before the Treaty of Waitangi,
Mäori leaders had clear aims of being part of the newly discovered wider world, on the same footing as the captains and political leaders they encountered on their travels to Australia and England. Mäori were increasingly aware that reading and writing, and communicating in English, were keys to a better future, and in particular to the wealth that would accrue from trade. 
Extensively researching the archives, Te Kawehau Hoskins et al state that missionary schools had been set up for Maoris long prior to 1840, but that they taught in Maori. The missionary efforts did not impress the Maoris. The Crown offered better opportunities, including the teaching of English. Under the 1847 Education Act public funds were available to schools, on the condition that they taught in English. There was no reference to suppressing Maori, but only that teaching was undertaken in English if the school was applying for funding. ‘The ordinance was intended for Mäori children, who at that time made up the vast majority of schoolchildren in the country’.  The Education Act stated of this, along with the freedom of religious belief:
In every school to be established or supported by public funds under the provisions of this Ordinance, religious education, industrial training, and instruction in the English language shall form a necessary part of the system to be pursued therein… 
Given that most of those who benefited were Maori children, and that the funding was provided by the Crown, that is, by the Settlers, for this the Crown must today seek forgiveness; for this the settler heritage is denigrated. Te Kawehau Hoskins et al state that, ‘Many Mäori communities were pleased about this shift towards English literacy. They had expressed disappointment with the missionaries for not teaching English’.  We can look to the xenophilia of the missionaries towards the Settlers in wanting to keep the ‘noble savages’ in their pristine purity from the white devils. Ranginui Walker states of this:
Although Māori had whare wānanga (schools for teaching their own genealogy of knowledge), they wanted to send their children to the mission schools to access the Pākehā knowledge that produced large ships, powerful weapons and an amazing array of goods. Perhaps schooling would unlock the secret to this material wealth. However, the Māori desire to access Western knowledge was thwarted by missionary control of the curriculum. Instruction in the mission schools was strictly confined to the scriptures, and reading and writing in the Māori language only. Secular and non-Christian knowledge was excluded from the curriculum. English was not taught because the missionaries did not want Māori contaminated by non-Christian influences. 
Such was the disillusionment with the education provided by the missionaries that when Karaitiana Takamoana was elected to Parliament in 1871 he sought legislation that would return land that had been given to the missionaries for native schools because they had not been satisfied with the education.
Takamoana wanted Mäori children to be taught in English only. He pointed out that the missionaries had been teaching the children ‘for many years, and the children are not educated. They have only taught them in the Mäori language. The whole of the Maoris in this Island request that the Government should give instructions that the Maoris should be taught in English only’. 
Native Minister Donald McLean replied in the House that the Government had looked into the question and concurred with Takamoana that the children had not been well served by the mission schools, and that a Bill would be introduced next session. 
Native Schools Act 1867
In 1867 the Native Schools Act was passed which stated that the English language and ‘the ordinary subjects of English primary education, would have to be taught … as far as practicable’.  This latter was an allusion to the isolation that continued for some communities. The annual amount allotted for the Native Schools was £4000. 
The creation of a new school in a school district was to proceed on receiving the vote from an assembly of the adult male native population of the area.  School committees, elected from the Maori population of the district controlled the schools.  Hence it can be seen that the progress of establishing schools was at the discretion of the Maori communities. The Act also provided funding for those Maori children attending European schools, and for the training of teachers. 
Te Kawehau Hoskins et al state that Maori language was never banned from the schools, and in 1880 schools again became bi-lingual.
It is interesting to note that Mäori language was not banned from all Native Schools, either officially or in practice. In 1880, no doubt influenced by Mäori concerns about teacher quality, the government inspector returned to the pre-war policy of bilingualism. The 1880 Native Schools Code required teachers to demonstrate some competence in te reo  (as well as knowing about Mäori ‘customs’ and ‘the history of the New Zealand wars’), and allowed them to use Mäori language in junior classes to assist the children’s comprehension of English, though the teacher’s ultimate aim was ‘to dispense with the use of Maori [in the classroom] as soon as possible’. 
Maoris Petition Parliament for English-only Schools
Of these State efforts to retain Te Reo in the Native Schools, there were Maori objections.
… Officially anyway, the schools were not expected to be Mäori-language-free zones. Nevertheless, some Mäori did not agree. Te Hakiro’s (1876) petition included the demand that neither Mäori nor Päkehä children should speak Mäori in the school playground; in addition, the teachers, they said, should be entirely ignorant of the Mäori language, so that they would not default to Mäori in the school. 
The petition referred to was presented by Te Hakiro and 336 others to Parliament in 1876. The petitioners regarded the teaching of children who had only known Maori and been raised in Maori customs to be a waste of time and money. They stated that even those who had achieved great successes despite the Maori language background, would tend to backslide. Long-term success would only be achieved if children were taught from a young age, devoid of Maori, and by teachers who would specifically be required not to know Maori:
Native Schools Act, 1867. We desire that The Native Schools Act, 1867, should be amended to this effect:— Let there be two classes of schools. First, for all children knowing only their own Maori tongue, also having a knowledge of all Maori customs. These should be taught to read in Maori, to write in Maori, and arithmetic. Second, all children of two years old, when they are just able to speak, should be taught the English language, and all the knowledge which you the Europeans possess. If this plain and easy course be followed, our children will soon attain to the acquirements of the Europeans. With reference to the first proposal, that only three things should be taught to those who can only speak Maori, we explain our reasons. First, the extreme difficulty of teaching them the English language; second and most important, even if the youths were to attain to the acquirements which are taught to them, after they have long been speaking nothing but Maori and observing only Maori customs if they were to return to their Maori kaingas, it would not be long before they fell away and became as those who had not been to school at all, or a good deal worse. This is a great waste of public money and of the land of the parents of the children; also it is a waste of time. … Had our children received a good sound education, it would have been for the benefit of both races and there would have been a return for the public moneys spent, and also for the lands of the Maoris given and the time spent, in the education of the children. … With reference to the second proposal, it was thought that the little children should be taught English, &c, so that the first language which they might be able to speak should be English. They could at that age pick it up very easily; and when the child was ready to take to school, he (or she) would go speaking English, and thus there would be no confusion with the teachers. It is important to consider that should these children acquire knowledge, it would be of a permanent character. It would be very difficult for them to pick up again the Maori customs from which they had been separated when quite little; they would have to be taught those customs in a school for that purpose, if they wanted to learn them for their amusement. This system would repay fully all the outlay. You should bear in mind this proverb, ‘If you want to pull up a kauri tree, you must do it when it is little;’ so with the education of our children, they should be taught when pliant. … There should also be a general play-ground for the European and Maori children together. There should not be a word of Maori allowed to be spoken in the school, and the master, his wife and children should be persons altogether ignorant of the Maori language. … If the Parliament would consent to embody these suggestions in an amendment to The Native Schools Act, 1867, it would be certain that in twenty-one years’ time the Maori children would be on an equal footing as regards their education with the Europeans; but if the present system is to be continued, if our children were to be taught under it for a thousand years, they would attain to what is called ‘knowledge;’ and in laying before these seven subjects for your consideration, we, your humble petitioners, will ever pray. Wi Te Hakiro, and 336 others. 
Hoskins et al, giving the example of Te Aute College in Hawke’s Bay, state that the students ‘spoke English among themselves to such an extent that the teachers encouraged them to also speak Mäori at school because “we do not want them to go back to their own people to be told, “You have learned English and forgotten your own tongue.”’
No Physical Coercion
Maori efforts at reducing or eliminating Te Reo in the schools prevailed by the early 20th century, and the Department of Education concurred, stating in a 1917 booklet that, ‘The less [the students] hear of Mäori, the better it will be for their English’. Hoskins et al, state of this that there was nonetheless no coercion recommended by the Government:
Mäori communities impatient for their children’s school success intensified their efforts in relation to learning English. They often believed, as did the Department of Education, that speaking Mäori in the playground reduced opportunities for practising what had been learned in the classroom… But no punishment for speaking te reo Mäori was officially suggested, and the tone of the government reports is one of encouraging students rather than forcing them to speak English outside the classroom (New Zealand Parliament House of Representatives, 1906). 
However, individual Native Schools adopted ad hoc policies of their own in imposing English by force: ‘Some saw that the only way to improve English language skills was through compulsion’. Citing the example of Waima School ‘a parent or person speaking Mäori at the school would be fined – as well as encouraging children to ‘inform’ on that person. There was no such law; communities such as the Waima people simply wanted their children to do well at school’. 
Contrary to what we assume today about the discipline of early schooling, in 1862 teachers at least in their dealings with Maori children were, in the words of a manual for Inspectors of Native Schools, ‘obliged to be very careful. … No correction, or at most, only a very slight box on the ear or slap on the hand. If corrected, they run away; their parents do not send them back again’.  But by the 20th century, corporal punishment seems to have become accepted in at least some Native Schools.  Of a widespread or official policy there was none.
While the Waitangi Tribunal submission by Taihape Maori quotes memories of those who were punished for speaking Maori, on the assumption that they were being subjected to Crown policy, and are now entitled to recompense, the paper by Hoskins et al, cites different experiences:
When I was at school I was never punished for speaking Mäori. We spoke Mäori in our little school in the playground but we were never strapped like some people say they were strapped for speaking Mäori. Tühara Native School. At Rakaumangamanga we were able to talk to one another . . . We weren’t strapped for speaking Mäori. Rakaumangamanga Native School.  It is easy to be critical today about hitting children for speaking their familiar language in the playground. But because some Mäori leaders and families thought that the compulsion to practise only English at school was necessary for their children’s future success, they asked the teachers to be strict with their children: My grandfather went to school and told the teacher not to let us speak Mäori. 
- Renewed call for Crown apology over caning for speaking te reo at school, Radio NZ, 19 September 2021, https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/451808/renewed-call-for-crown-apology-over-canings-for-speaking-te-reo-at-school
- Maori Language Act 2016, 6 (1) Acknowledgement of the Crown.
- Te Reo Rangatira Me Ona Tikanga, General Closing Submissions, 19 May 2020, Wai2180 #3.3.43, Pp. 3-4. https://mokaipateaclaims.maori.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/wai-2180-3.3.43-te-reo-rangatira-me-ona-tikanga.pd
- Te Kawehau Hoskins, Kimai Tocker, Alison Jones, Provocation: Discouraging Children from Speaking Te Reo in Schools as a Strategic Mäori Initiative, MAI: New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2020, p. 145; http://www.journal.mai.ac.nz/sites/default/files/MAI_Jrnl_2020_V9_2_Hoskins_FINAL.pdf
- An Ordinance for Promoting the Education of Youth in the Colony of New Zealand, 7 October 1847, X: 3.
- Te Kawehau Hoskins et al, op. cit.
- Ranginui Walker, Reclaiming Maori Education p. 21, in Decolonisation in Aotearoa (NZCER Press, 2016).
- Te Kawehau Hoskins et al, pp. 145-146, quoting Takamoana from Hansard, 1871, p. 828.
- Hansard, ibid.
- An Act to Regulate and Provide Subsidies for Maori Schools, 10 October 1867 (21).
- Ibid. (3).
- Ibid. (6).
- Ibid. (7).
- Ibid. (18).
- New Zealand Parliament House of Representatives, 1880, pp. 1–7.
- Te Kawehau Hoskins et al, p. 147.
- Petition of Wi Te Hikaro and 336 others to the presented to the House of Representatives, 29 June 1876, Session I-J04.
- Te Kawehau Hoskins et al, p. 147.
- Ibid., p. 148.
- Ibid. Citing: Inspectors of Native Schools, 1862, p. 20.
- Ibid., p. 149.
- Ibid., p. 141.
- Ibid., p. 144.
- Ibid., p. 149.