'Wanganui' for now, but 'h' won't go away

While Wanganui District Council voted yesterday to keep the city's name 'h-less', that will not be the end of the matter say local Maori leaders.

An 8-5 vote by a full council meeting carried the motion "that the Wanganui District Council, on behalf of the wider Wanganui community, advise the NZ Geographic Board that no change be made to the spelling of Wanganui, either city or district".

But local iwi say the proposed change is not a debate between Maori and Pakeha, but rather righting a wrong.

Iwi members Gerrard Albert, Che Wilson and Ken Mair spoke yesterday at the culmination of a march from Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens to the Wanganui District Council in support of changing the spelling of the city's name to Whanganui.

"We're hoping this issue will finally be put right," Mr Albert told the Wanganui Chronicle.

Mr Albert said a 2006 Wanganui referendum asking if the spelling should be changed was scaremongering by Mayor Michael Laws, and "leadership should be exercised for the people .

In the 2006 vote, 82 per cent opted against changing the name.

Mr Mair said yesterday the "h" debate was also about respect for a name and for each other.

"The debate is about leadership, our name and the community as a whole."

The council met to frame an official reply to the NZ Geographic Board after it was asked to consider the issue of the proper spelling of the city and district following iwi group Te Runanga o Tupoho's application for a change to Whanganui.

The board will discuss the issue on March 27, with a decision expected soon after.

Councillors who supported the motion argued Wanganui had assumed its own independent identity and integrity over the past 170 years, and that a significant majority of residents had voted against change in 2006.

Those who opposed the motion argued that Wanganui was misspelled, and that it was the right of Maori to assert the correct spelling of their language.

They said the majority did not have a right to impose its collective viewpoint upon a cultural minority.

Mayor Michael Laws, who proposed the motion, said he was obliged to uphold the views of the community, as expressed in Referendum 06.

It would be improper to change a name after it had been in common use for more than a century, he argued.

"Wanganui is not a Maori name. It has assumed an identity, a heritage, a history and a mana of its own."

In 1991 the Geographic Board changed the spelling of Wanganui River to Whanganui River, while the district health board also adopted Whanganui.

"It does not make sense to correct the spelling of the river and to leave the name of the city spelled incorrectly," the iwi said in its proposal to the board.


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