The Māori Party of New Zealand, has introduced a landmark petition, calling for the country to be renamed to its original indigenous name of ‘Aotearoa’. The party further looks to restore the indigenous names of all cities, towns and places across the country.
Announced on Tuesday 14th September in a public statement, the party claimed “It is well past time that Te Reo Māori was restored to its rightful place as the official language of this country.” Expected to be completed by 2026 should the party gather enough signatures, this campaign has brought to light the disparity between the indigenous community and the rest of the public, as the indigenous culture is pushed to the sidelines in the modern world.
A rapid decline in fluency in the Māori language can be seen, with 90% fluency in 1920 being reduced to 26% by 1950. Today, it is estimated that only 3% of the current population can speak the language fluently, which the Māori Party perceives as a great threat to the indigenous community.
Currently, the petition is said to have received over 50,000 signatures, however, no official comments have been made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Having positively acknowledged the name ‘Aotearoa’ being used interchangeably with ‘New Zealand’ in the past, the Prime Minister stated that changing the official name was “not something we have explored.”
The decline in Indigenous culture has been brought to light over the last few years. The Māori party states that the community “is sick of seeing our ancestral names be mangled, bastardised and ignored.” While many have resisted this proposal of changing the country’s name, the party continues to emphasise the intended ‘inclusive nature’ of the change, bringing the indigenous community and public together.
The party further blames colonisation for the loss of their culture, language and identity. Formerly a British colony, New Zealand has stated that “It is the duty of the Crown … to restore the status of our language.” Within 48 hours of the petition going online, the party gained more than 3,000 signatures, to which Māori Party leader Rawiri Waititi said “there is mood for change.”
The proposal has, however, seen extensive backlash from other political leaders in the country. The leader of the National Party, Judith Collins, claims the name ‘Aotearoa’ is being implemented “by stealth” while Libertarian leader David Seymor states that the Māori Party wants to “ban people [from] calling our country New Zealand.” A statement from the Prime Minister is eagerly awaited.
The historical significance of the name ‘Aotearoa’ has been greatly debated, and has been the root cause for many resisting the official change. Various versions of the tale explaining how the name came about, believe that ‘Aotearoa’ only referred to the northern region of the island nation. Such ambiguity led to former Prime Minister Winston Peters stating that they “are not changing to some name with no historical credibility” and further called this an act of extremism.
Māori supporters continue pushing for what is considered to be “Māori Oral History” and the inclusion of the Māori people under the country’s official name. Despite the public pressure, officials continue to wait for historians to highlight the name Aotearoa’s historical credibility before supporting the official name change.