May 13, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views


2 min read

Māori Language Commissioner Erima Henare says debates around name changes such as adding a ‘h’ to Whanganui are storms in a teacup. The head of the Geographic Board says it was the advice of Te Taurawhiri i Te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission, that influenced the decision to recommend the change.

The board says early settlers always intended the name of the city should match that of the river. Mr Henare told Morning Report that alterations to place names elsewhere all faced initial opposition, but that quickly disappeared.

He said people have moved away from commonsense to take up polarised positions based on race and whether one group has more power than another. Mr Henare said it would be a sad day if Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson decides to reject the board’s decision.

Public law firm Chen Palmer founding partner Mai Chen says there’s no prescribed way the minister should make the decision, and it is entirely up to him. Mr Williamson says it’s an unenviable position to be in, but there’s no time limit on when he has to make his decision.

Tariana Turia’s view

Te Tai Hauauru MP Tariana Turia of Whanganui has welcomed the decision as the right thing to do. She told Waatea News it won’t affect the way the name is pronounced.

Michael Law’s view

Whanganui  is “not a Māori word, but had a culture, heritage and mana all of its own” and that the The Geographic Board’s decision was “racist” (which interestingly Mr Laws continues to mispronounce), biased and failed to take referendum results into account.

Pita Sharples view

See the actions of tangata whenua as a gift, not an imposition,” Dr Sharples said after the Geographic Board recommended that the “h” be restored and the name spelt as “Whanganui“. The name Whanganui has a whakapapa, a history. It carries meaning and significance. The name must be spelt properly, otherwise it loses integrity.”
Other coverage:

Your thoughts whānau?

4 thoughts on “Whanganui…finally.

  1. New Zealand town divided by letter ‘H’
    September 20, 2009

    AUCKLAND – There’s a war raging in New Zealand and the weapon has been dubbed the “H” bomb.

    Kiwis have been debating whether the North Island town of Wanganui should in fact become Whanganui with an “H” like the local river the town in nestled along.

    Simple enough, you might say. It’s no Bombay to Mumbai. But no, this single letter has raised the ire of the city and divided the nation as it has moved from an innocuous spelling debate into a divisive issue at the heart of New Zealand race relations.

    The local Maori tribe, which formally proposed the change, says it’s important to right a historic wrong made when the name was incorrectly recorded by 19th-century white settlers.

    But four out of five Wanganui residents don’t want it, saying any change is “racist” and denies the city’s recent past.

    Enter their flamboyant, inflammatory and politically incorrect mayor, Michael Laws, who is fiercely opposed to any change.

    Laws – who famously stirred up contempt by calling the late Tongan king a “bloated brown slug” – hit headlines again earlier this month over the H issue.

    After receiving a bunch of letters from Maori school children who backed the change but lived elsewhere he fired back a heated note urging them to sack their teacher.

    “There are so many deficiencies of both fact and logic in your letters that I barely know where to start,” he told the 12-year-olds.

    Then he got personal, saying: “When your class starts addressing the real issues affecting Maoridom, particularly the appalling rate of child abuse and child murder within Maori society, then I will take the rest of your views seriously”.

    Publicly attacked over his response, Laws didn’t let up, saying he thought the pupils were “put up to it” by their teacher.

    “Do you honestly think that children give a continental about how Wanganui is spelt?

    “Children this age care about Harry Potter.”

    Laws was no doubt unimpressed by the New Zealand Geographic Board’s subsequent verdict to recommend the change to the government after receiving 900 submissions on the topic.

    He’ll be hoping it goes no further, and judging from the words of the country’s conservative prime minister John Key, he’s in luck.

    Key admits he hasn’t “waded his way through the whole thing” but believes it should ultimately be an issue for the local residents.

    If left to them, the H debate will be killed off in an instant.

  2. Wanganui debate boils into h-rage

    The recommendation that an “h” be added to Wanganui has sparked fanatical postings on a Facebook page, including extreme racist threats and calls for vandalism.

    The Wanganui not Whanganui page had about 1600 fans yesterday, many of whom expressed outrage that the Geographic Board recommended the change.

    Contributors include Wanganui-born Nazi sympathiser Nic Miller, who in 2006 set up a website targeting Jews. He has posted several threats and called for an organised campaign of “civil disobedience and vandalism”.

    “Every single misspelled sign with the terrible “H” will have to be defaced & corrected.”

    Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said the comments, and those from some others on the site, meant the issue had taken an “ugly turn” and was being used by some to advance extreme racist views. But he said most of the reaction had been reasoned.

    “There are people for the change and people against the change. It has been an issue that has been divisive [but] from what I’ve seen, people have different views but they’re not coming to blows over it.”

    Business owners in the city are divided over whether to adopt the “h.”

    Wanganui Motors owner Steven Dyke said with feelings running high, changing the dealership’s name could alienate customers.

    “The brand of this company has been here for about 50 years and we feel it should stay the way it is now,” he said.

    Wanganui Electrical Services owner Darrell Murphy believes adding an “h” to his business name would cause inconvenience. “We’d be looking at signs, vans, letterheads, email addresses. For a company that uses `Wanganui’ as its primary name it would have a big effect. We wouldn’t be rushing to do it.”

    Wanganui Pet Motel owner Yvonne Malaquin said she voted against the “h” in a local referendum and would not change the business’ name. In the poll, in May, 77 per cent said they wanted the current spelling retained.

    Wanganui Chronicle editor Kim Gillespie said there were no immediate plans to rename the newspaper, but it would have to be considered if the town’s name was officially changed.

    New Zealand Post postal services’ group chief executive, Peter Fenton, said there were already mechanisms in place to ensure items mailed to Wanganui with and without the “h” reached the intended recipient.

    National’s Whanganui MP Chester Borrows said that although he favoured the name change, it was important that local citizens’ views were taken into account. He planned to discuss the matter with Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson, who will make the final decision.

    Wanganui District Council is seeking legal advice, after mayor Michael Laws said the board’s decision was potentially illegal because it had not taken the heritage and cultural value of Wanganui without an “h” into account.

  3. BLOG: Chris Ford: ‘H’ Bomb Dropped On Whanganui – Hooray For That!

    About two weeks ago, I blogged about Michael Laws and his insulting words to a kura kaupapa Maori immersion class at Otaki Primary School who wrote to him regarding the use of the ‘h’ word in Whanganui’s name.

    While I don’t want to traverse over old ground, may I say that the Geographic Board has made the right decision to recognise the ‘h’ spelling of Whanganui in response to calls from local iwi. Laws’ reaction to this decision has been nothing short of vitriolic and probably racist in undertone. Dismissing the comments of Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples that the people of Whanganui should accept the name change, Laws has proven that demagougery works when it comes to leading a provincial town on an issue like this. Besides, there were hundreds of other uncontroversial name changes proposed last week by the board but one simple name change has become controversial because just one affected region has a loud mouth, right-wing mayor as its leader – Michael Laws.

    For one thing, I can’t understand the fuss over the inclusion of just one letter either into the name. Personally speaking, if there were representations to the Geographic Board asking that Dunedin be renamed ‘New Edinburgh’ (which is the Gaelic meaning of my city’s name) or that the area’s Maori name of Otepoti be recognised, I would not have any objection as it would recognise the bi-cultural heritage of the Otago region as well.

    Having said all that, I would urge that Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson formally dualise the name Whanganui/Wanganui to keep both sides happy. After all, Wanganui, even without an ‘h’ is a Maori name in and of itself but the use of the correct pronounciation would still go along way to respecting the tangata whenua of the region.

    If I am to make reference to the city in the future, then I am happy to accept the Geographic Board’s guidance and use Whanganui. If Michael Laws and his fellow travellers could (with perhaps a bone being thrown their way in being able to use Wanganui without an ‘h’ as well) can see their way towards doing this as well, then good.

    Otherwise, I applaud the Geographic Board for dropping their version of an ‘h bomb’ – hooray for that!

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