Maori Language Act 1987

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Maori Language Act 1987
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand Parliament
An Act to declare the Maori language to be an official language of New Zealand, to confer the right to speak Maori in certain legal proceedings, and to establish Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Maori and define its functions and powers.[1]
Date of Royal Assent 20 July 1987
Date commenced

1 August 1987

s 4: 1 February 1988
Related legislation
Treaty of Waitangi Act, New Zealand Sign Language Act
Status: Repealed

The Maori Language Act 1987 was a piece of legislation passed by the Parliament of New Zealand.[2] It gave Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) official language status, and gave speakers a right to use it in legal settings such as in court. It also established the Māori Language Commission, initially called Te Komihana Mo Te Reo Maori, to promote the language and provide advice on it.

1991 amendment[edit]

The act was amended in 1991 and legislated the Māori Language Commission's name change to Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Māori.[3] As well as renaming the Māori Language Commission, the 1991 amendment slightly expanded the range of legal settings in which Te Reo could be used, to include bodies such as the Tenancy Tribunal and any Commission of Inquiry.

Use of macrons in the act[edit]

The use of macrons to indicate the long vowel in New Zealand Government legislation is inconsistent, with this act being one example of non-macron use. A version of the legislation which includes macrons, however, is offered by the commission.[4]


The act was the result of many years of campaigning by Māori, particularly those involved in the Māori protest movement. It was also the result of shifts in thinking about the Treaty of Waitangi. By the mid-1980s, the treaty had acquired increased relevance thanks primarily to the Waitangi Tribunal. The act was passed at least in part as a response to Waitangi Tribunal finding that the Māori language was a taonga (treasure or valued possession) under the Treaty of Waitangi.[5] The act also drew on a number of international precedents, primarily the Irish Bord Na Gaeilge Act 1978, which is cited several times in the legislation but also the United Kingdom's Welsh Language Act 1967, which enabled the use of the Welsh language in Welsh court proceedings.

Despite the act, Māori does not have the same status under law as English. For example, tax records must be kept in English unless the Commissioner of Internal Revenue agrees otherwise.[6]


The 1987 act was repealed by the Maori Language Act 2016.[7][8]


  1. ^ Long title amended on 20 June 1991, by section 2(2) of the Maori Language Amendment Act 1991 (1991 No 40).
  2. ^ "Maori Language Act 1987". Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  3. ^ "Maori Language Amendment Act 1991". Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "Māori Language Act 1987". Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Dana, Peterson (14 March 2000). "Te Reo Māori - the Māori language" (PDF). New Zealand Parliamentary Library. pp. 1–9 [3]. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "Tax Administration Act 1994, ss 22(2)(fb)". Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Sherman, Maiki (14 April 2016). "Maori Language Bill passed". Newshub. 
  8. ^ "Te Pire mō Te Reo Māori / Māori Language Bill". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 22 May 2016.