New Zealand’s Maori Party wants to officially rename the country Aotearoa to make its indigenous language more visible in public life, local media reported on Monday.
The Maori party’s proposed plan, which includes renaming Wellington Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Christchurch Otautahi, was announced ahead of parliamentary elections on October 17.
“It is unacceptable … that only 3 per cent of the country can speak its official language,” Maori Party candidate Rawiri Waititi said in a statement carried by local news outlet Stuff.
New Zealand has two official languages, English and the Maori language, or te reo.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is seeking a second term in the upcoming election, did not say whether she supported a name change.
“I hear more and more often the use of Aotearoa interchangeable with New Zealand and that is a positive thing,” she said in a statement cited by the New Zealand Herald.
“Whether or not we change it in law I don’t think changes the fact that New Zealand is increasingly referred to as Aotearoa.”
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters meanwhile criticized the Maori Party’s plan in a tweet. “This is plain headline hunting without any regard to the cost to this country,” he wrote.
Efforts to rename the Pacific nation have gone on for years. The name New Zealand goes back to Dutch colonizers, who named it after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
The Maori name for the country, Aotearoa, means “land of the white cloud.”