First written Te Reo taonga sparks debate over teaching Māori culture

A ceremony celebrating the first two examples of written Te Reo has sparked debate about whether there should be more emphasis placed on teaching Māori culture.

It came hours after Prime Minister Jacinda Arden was stumped when asked to name Article One and Two of the Treaty of Waitangi, despite saying she learnt it in school.

The two faintly written notes are a remarkable example of New Zealand documentary heritage. Around 70 words etched into slate with a nail marked the first known chapter in Māori literacy.

"They celebrate the transition of Māori Taonga Te Reo in to a written form, and that's a very profound thing," said Claire Craig acting chief executive of Heritage New Zealand.

One author signed the bottom "Na Rongo Hongi aged 16". She was the daughter of the famous Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika and wife of Hone Heke.

"She became profoundly significant in her own right as a leader of Māoridom," Ms Craig says.

Both slates went undiscovered at New Zealand's oldest house for more than a century, buried beneath the floorboards where the two teens took their lessons.

Today there's debate about whether language and lessons about the Treaty of Waitangi should be compulsorily taught in schools.

Ms Ardern learnt about the Treaty at school - but speaking to press on Monday, the Prime Minister was asked by a reporter what Article 1 of the Treaty of Waitangi says.

"Article 1? On the spot? Kawanatanga," she replied, when helped out by Willie Jackson and other ministers standing behind her.

Asked what Article 2 says, Ms Ardern said, "Tino Rangatiratanga," which is the name of the name of Article 2, but again she did not provide further insight.

"Look, I know the principles of Waitangi, I know our obligations," she said.

But at Waitangi where the Treaty was signed, just knowing the basic principles isn't enough. Multiple people say knowing our history and language should be compulsory.

A language and lesson that many don't want to go missing as these precious pieces of history did for almost 200 years.