A New Zealand political party is calling for the country to change its name to Aotearoa.
Te Pati Maori (Maori party) launched its petition on Tuesday, urging the country’s house of representatives to return the country and its cities to their pre-colonial, Maori language designations by 2026.
“It’s well past time that Te Reo Maori was restored to its rightful place as the first and official language of this country. We are a Polynesian country — we are Aotearoa,” a Maori Party statement said. “Tangata whenua [the Maori people] are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardized and ignored. It’s the 21st Century, this must change.”
The petition was signed by more than 25,000 people within 24 hours of its release.
According to one map of New Zealand in Maori language, the capital Wellington would become Te Whanganui-a-Tara, the largest city Auckland would be renamed Tamaki Makaurau. The country’s current name is an anglicized version of “Nieuw Zeeland,” given to the country by a Dutch mapmaker after being sighted by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642.
Co-led by Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, the Maori party currently has two parliamentary seats out of 120, and was established in 2004.
Ngarewa-Packer said that the colonial agenda led to a 64% decline in Maori language fluency between 1910 and 1950. Maori has been an official language since 1987 and is one of three in New Zealand, which include English and New Zealand Sign Language.
“It is the duty of the Crown to do all that it can to restore the status of our language to where it was when the moment they arrived and interrupted our natural development,” Ngarewa-Packer said. “That means it needs to be accessible in the most obvious of places; on our televisions, on our radio stations, on road signs and maps and in our education system.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, when asked about the petition, has said that place names could continue to be used in both languages interchangeably but did not commit to supporting the Indigenous party’s petition.
Te Pati Maori made international headlines earlier in 2021, when intense debate followed co-leader Waititi being kicked out of parliament for refusing to wear a necktie. He instead wore a traditional hei-tiki — a greenstone pendant.
Rules say that in parliament, men had to don ties, which Waititi called a “colonial noose.” He said kicking him out of parliament for his hei-tiki was “a breach of the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.
Thomas Heaton is a Li Center for Global Journalism Fellow. The position is supported by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Institute for Nonprofit News. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @thomasheaton.