Māori Party push for all Māori place names to be restored by 2026 and 'Aotearoa' to officially replace 'New Zealand'

The Māori Party are pushing for all place names to be restored to their original Māori name by 2026 and 'Aotearoa' to officially replace 'New Zealand'. 

Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer launched a petition on Tuesday calling for the name changes, to mark Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, or Māori Language Week. 

"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," Waititi said. 

"Our petition calls on Parliament to change New Zealand to Aotearoa and begin a process, alongside whānau, hapū and iwi, 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 are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardised, and ignored. It's the 21st century, this must change."

Ngarewa-Packer says it is the duty of the Crown to "do all that it can to restore the status of our language" to where it was. 

"That means it needs to be accessible in the most obvious of places; on our televisions, on our radio stations, on road signs and maps and in our education system," she says. 

"Name changes over our whenua and the imposition of a colonial agenda in the education system in the early 1900s meant that te reo Māori fluency among our tupuna went from 90 percent in 1910 to 26 percent in 1950. 

"In only 40 years, the colonisers managed to successfully strip us of our language and we are still feeling the impacts of this today."

It's not a new policy. During the campaign to return to Parliament after being ousted in 2017,  the Māori Party launched its language policy which included changing the official name of the country to Aotearoa, restoring place names and requiring state broadcasters to have basic te reo Māori fluency. 

But the road to changing the name of New Zealand is rocky. 

Could it happen? 

Last month National leader Judith Collins backed MP Stuart Smith's call for a referendum on whether New Zealand should be called Aotearoa. He said despite there not being a public poll on the name 'New Zealand', there should be one on 'Aotearoa'.

"We could probably go to a referendum on [it] and ask people what they want. People are starting to get, I think, quite tetchy about it," Collins said at the time.

"They're now changing it, the Prime Minister changes the way she talks about it, you barely ever hear her talk about New Zealand these days... I think it is becoming like that by stealth."

But 'Aotearoa' has been on the cover of New Zealand passports since 2009 - when National was in Government. Bank notes also feature 'Aotearoa', since former Prime Minister John Key unveiled them in 2015. 

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little described the referendum proposal as "ridiculous" and Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson said it was "desperate and stupid". 

But changing the country's name isn't on the Government's agenda. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during the election campaign she had "not explored" the idea. 

ACT leader David Seymour says there are more important things

"Personally, I say New Zealand, I'm not interested in going out and policing what other people say, and I know a lot of young people out there who say look, you can call it Timbuktu if you like, so long as I can afford a house there," he told The AM Show last month. 

"I just think there are some bigger issues for most people."

The Greens, who already use 'Aotearoa' as part of their official name, want te reo Māori to be part of the country's core schooling curriculum for students up to year 10 by 2030.