The Māori language revival is a movement to promote, reinforce and strengthen the speaking of the Māori language. Primarily in New Zealand, but also in centres with large numbers of New Zealand migrants (such as London and Melbourne), the movement aims to increase the use of Māori in the home, in education, government and business. The movement is part of a broader Māori Renaissance.
Until World War II (1939–1945) most Māori people spoke Māori as their first language but by the 1980s fewer than 20% of Māori spoke the language well enough to be classed as native speakers. The causes of the decline included the switch from using Māori to using English compulsory in schools and increasing urbanisation, which disconnected younger generations from their extended families and in particular their grandparents, who traditionally played a large part in family life. Even many of those people no longer spoke Māori in the home. As a result, many Māori children failed to learn their ancestral language, and generations of non-Māori-speaking Māori emerged.
Māori leaders began to recognize the dangers of the loss of their language and initiated Māori-language recovery-programs such as the Kōhanga Reo (literally, "language nest") movement, which from 1982 immersed infants in Māori from infancy to school age. There followed in the later 1980s the founding of the Kura Kaupapa Māori, a primary-school programme in Māori.
The Māori Language Act 1987 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 Māori but later renamed Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Māori) to promote the language and provide advice on it.
Kōhanga reo (Māori: literally "language nest") is a whānau (family) development and language revitalisation initiative grounded in Māori cultural principles and ideals. It facilitates the growth and development of mokopuna (children) through the transmission of Māori language, knowledge and culture. The kōhanga reo movement operates from the Māori philosophical world view and is principally guided by kaumātua (respected elders) and their lifelong wisdom.
Conducted entirely in the medium of Māori language, kōhanga reo is an environment where mokopuna aged 0 – 6 years old (6 being the age at which all New Zealand children are statutorily required to be enrolled at a registered school), kaumātua and whānau spend time together talking, playing, praying and learning. Daily activities may take place anywhere that is safe and warm including marae (traditional Māori buildings), converted homes or purpose-built centres. The kōhanga reo movement recognises that supporting and maintaining whānau is key to the growth and development of mokopuna. Ideal learning by and development of mokopuna, therefore, is considered to be dependent on the development and growth of the whānau together and this in turn is reliant on the guidance and wisdom of kaumātua.
Emerging in the late 1970s at the direction of kaumātua, kōhanga reo was an immediate and urgent response to the decline of te reo Māori (Māori language) and tikanga Māori (Māori culture, cultural habits and practices).
The first kōhanga reo was founded in Wainuiomata in 1982. The success of kōhanga reo is such that they have been followed by the establishment of primary schools and secondary schools (Kura Kaupapa Māori) where Māori is the primary language of instruction. The role of Maori language in education in New Zealand is enshrined in the Education Act 1989.
The kōhanga reo concept has led to other before-school initiatives in New Zealand that instruct in Pacific languages, e.g. Fijian, Rarotongan, Samoan, and Tongan and other countries adopting a similar concept. A notable example being Pūnana Leo established in Hawaii to revitalise the indigenous Hawaiian language.
The Maori Party wants to make te reo 'compulsorily available' in schools by 2015 but students wouldn't be compelled to take the subject.