Māori Politicians Want to Change New Zealand’s Name to Aotearoa

Rawiri Waititi

Māori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi (pictured) and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer suggested that the restoration of traditional place names signalled a long overdue pushback against the enduring legacy of European colonialism. Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images

A petition to change the official name of New Zealand to Aotearoa, the country’s traditional Polynesian title, was launched by the national political Māori Party, Te Pāti Māori, on Tuesday – and garnered more than 25,000 signatures overnight.

In addition to changing the country’s name from New Zealand – which is originally derived from “Nova Zeelandia,” after the Dutch province of Zeeland – the petition also urges the adoption of te reo Māori names for all towns, cities and places across the nation by 2026. 

Māori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer suggested in a statement that the restoration of traditional place names signalled a long overdue pushback against the enduring legacy of European colonialism.

“It’s well past time that te reo Māori was restored to its rightful place as the first and official language of this country. We are a Polynesian country – we are Aotearoa,” the statement said. “This petition calls on Parliament to change New Zealand to Aotearoa and begin a process, alongside whānau (extended families), hapū (subtribes) and iwi (larger tribes), local government and the New Zealand Geographic Board to identify and officially restore the original Te Reo Māori names for all towns, cities and places right across the country by 2026.

“Tangata whenua (the original inhabitants of the country) are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardised, and ignored. It’s the 21st Century, this must change.”

Waititi and Ngarewa-Packer said it is “totally unacceptable” that the te reo Māori language is spoken by only 20 percent of the Māori population and 3 percent of the national population overall. They indicated that the blame for this partly lay with the imposition of a colonial agenda in the country’s education system during the early 1900s, which saw Māori ancestors’ fluency in their native tongue dropping from 90 percent in 1910 to 26 percent in 1950.

“In only 40 years, the Crown managed to successfully strip us of our language and we are still feeling the impacts of this today,” the statement said. “It is the duty of the Crown to do all that it can to restore the status of our language. That means it needs to be accessible in the most obvious of places; on our televisions, on our radio stations, on road signs, maps and official advertising, and in our education system.”

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