Native Affairs Exclusive: High Court ruling overturns decision to ban girl from Māori language education

A High Court ruling has enabled a seven-year-old girl to resume learning her Māori language in a Māori environment after she was banned from doing so by a Family Court judge.

Native Affairs first broke this story in March, the extraordinary ruling that resulted in the girl being removed from her kura kaupapa Māori and ultimately banned from attending any form of Māori language schooling.

The girl had spent two years at the kura kaupapa and a further four years at kōhanga reo.

As part of the family court ruling the judge acknowledged a change in schooling would affect the girl’s fluency in Māori, however, the final decision came down to the fact the girl’s Pākehā father could not speak nor understand Māori and felt shut out from his daughter’s education.

She was sent to a co-ed religious school.

The girl’s Māori mother appealed the ruling at the High Court and won.

“It took an emotional toll,” she told Native Affairs in another exclusive interview.

“At first the fight became about my daughter’s voice and her representation of wanting to go back to the kura that she knew. It was about whānau and that connection”

“But now it’s moved a little bit, we’ve changed our position in the sense now her language must be preserved so she can have an opportunity for options when gets to intermediate and high school.”

“All I want is just for my daughter to learn the language I was never allowed to learn. It’s not even political. It’s just a simple thing to have her full education in te reo Māori full stop.”

It took three High Court judges to preside over the case. After 10 weeks of deliberations, the third judge noted, “It is perhaps surprising in 2017, especially given the Māori Language Act, that it is not yet Government policy that all primary schools teach te reo as a compulsory subject.”

The judge effectively overturned the Family Court ruling and enabled the girl to resume her Māori education at a new, bilingual school.

“Both parents have genuinely held views about what is best for (girl) in terms of her education, and both of their views appear to be supported by good reasons. As a result, neither party appears likely to budge.”

“As long as (girl) attends (kura kaupapa), or (religious school), I am concerned it will remain a bone of contention between her parents. That can only be detrimental to her interests.

In my view, (bilingual school) provides a fresh start and a compromise.”

The girl started her new journey at her new school at the beginning of this school term.