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New name for New Zealand? Maori party wants change

James Franey
September 14, 2020

New Zealand needs a new name to better reflect its heritage, a Maori political party argues. It has suggested Aotearoa. PM Jacinda Ardern sidestepped the question, saying the names were becoming "interchangeable."

Local iwi perform a haka during an evening to commemorate Maori service in the NZ armed forces
Image: Getty Images/F. Goodall

New Zealand's Maori Party said on Monday that the country should be renamed to better reflect the country's indigenous culture.

Politicians want the nation to be called "Aotearoa". The word means 'the land of white cloud' in the nation's indigenous language, also known as te reo.

Both English and Maori are official languages in New Zealand. The Maoris are the largest ethnic minority, representing 16.5 percent of the population.

But those with indigenous roots complain that English has become too dominant and ignores the country's history.

"It is unacceptable that only 3 per cent of the country can speak its official language," Maori Party candidate Rawiri Waititi was quoted as saying by the Stuff website.

They want the name change to take effect by 2026.

Read more: New Zealanders demand removal of German Nazi's name from ski run

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stopped short of backing the proposal.

"I hear more and more often the use of Aotearoa interchangeable with New Zealand and that is a positive thing," she was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the Maori Party's plan was "headline hunting."

"It will make our international marketing brand extraordinarily confusing when exports will be critical to our economic survival."

Efforts to rename the Pacific nation has gone on for years. The name New Zealand comes from the Netherlands' colonial era, with the country named after the Dutch province of Zeeland.