NZ Election 2020: Hauraki-Waikato candidates differ on removing controversial place names in New Zealand

The two candidates from the Hauraki-Waikato electorate have differing views on removing place names that "glorify" New Zealand's colonisers.

Labour Party minister Nanaia Mahuta and Māori Party candidate Donna Pokere-Phillips took part in The Hui's Māori electorate debate on Wednesday evening, and both gave their stances on the controversial topic of whether to remove particular place names.

Mahuta said she wouldn't want to remove statues of colonisers because they are a "stark reminder" of New Zealand's colonised history.

Instead, she would like to see a repatriation of local history and stories back into communities, towns and cities in a way that shows what is unique about that area.

There are three ways to do this, she said. The first is to ensure that, for example, mana whenua are engaged with for consenting developments so their stories can be told, the second is through Treaty settlements where names are changed as a result of the agreement with the Crown and thirdly through history being taught in schools.

"[We want New Zealand history taught in schools] so that when people think of [Gustavus] von Tempsky they attach von Tempsky to the history of Waikato," Mahuta said.

Von Tempsky led a company in a raid on the undefended Waikato village of Rangiaowhia in 1864, where many residents were women, children and elderly men.

"Removing statues will not remove the deep racism that exists in many, many communities - actually telling the story and bringing things to light will help achieve that. That's why I'm so committed to New Zealand history, this history of the New Zealand wars, being taught in our schools," she said.

Donna Pokere-Phillips and Nanaia Mahuta.
Donna Pokere-Phillips and Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: The Hui

But Pokere-Phillips said she and the Māori Party support changing names "where we've been oppressed".

"I find it abhorrent when I walk down Bryce Street in Kirikiriroa [Hamilton], when I go out to places like Rāhui Pōkeka [Huntly]," she said, referring to John Bryce who led the invasion of Parihaka.

"In regards to von Tempsky Street and Bryce Street, these are men that pillaged, raped, murdered women and children, so why should we glorify them? Why should my mokopuna have to walk down that street to be reminded of that whole process."

New Zealand's colonial place names came under increased scrutiny earlier this year following the death of African American man George Floyd and controversial statues being torn down across the US and around the world as protest.

New Zealand activists such as Waikato-Tainui iwi chair Rukumoana Schaafhausen have called for cities to be changed to their Māori names as it is a reminder of history's "confiscations".

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