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]
Royal assent 20 July 1987
  • 1 August 1987
  • s 4: 1 February 1988
Amended by
Maori Language Amendment Act 1991
Repealed by
Māori Language Act 2016
Related legislation
Status: Repealed

The Māori Language Act 1987 was a piece of legislation passed by the Parliament of New Zealand [2] that gave official language status to the Māori language (te reo Māori), and gave speakers a right to use it in legal settings such as courts. It also established the Māori Language Commission, initially called Te Komihana Mo Te Reo Maori, to promote the language and provide advice on it. The law was enacted as the Maori Language Act 1987 and originally written without macrons.


The 1987 act was repealed by section 48 of the Māori Language Act 2016, however there were no major changes from the provisions of the old legislation and the 2016 act merely updated the 1987 law with new provisions and language.


The act was the result of 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. [3] The act also drew on a number of international precedents, primarily the Bord na Gaeilge Act 1978 of Ireland, which is cited several times in the legislation, but also the Welsh Language Act 1967 of the United Kingdom, 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. [4]

1991 amendment

The act was amended in 1991 and legislated the Māori Language Commission's name change to Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Māori. [5] It also slightly expanded the range of legal settings in which Māori could be used, to include bodies such as the Tenancy Tribunal and any Commission of Inquiry.

Repeal by 2016 act

The 1987 act was repealed on 30 April 2016 by section 48 of Te Ture mō Te Reo Māori 2016 / Māori Language Act 2016, which updated the law. As a New Zealand first, there are two versions of the new act, one in Māori and the other in English, with section 12 stating that if there was any conflict in meaning between the two versions, the Māori version would prevail. [6] [7]

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  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. Dana, Peterson (14 March 2000). "Te Reo Māori – the Māori language" (PDF). New Zealand Parliamentary Library. pp. 1–9 [3]. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  4. "Tax Administration Act 1994, ss 22(2)(fb)" . Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  5. "Maori Language Amendment Act 1991" . Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  6. Sherman, Maiki (14 April 2016). "Māori Language Bill passed". Newshub . MediaWorks.
  7. "Te Pire mō Te Reo Māori / Māori Language Bill". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 22 May 2016.