Law change 'restores the mana of local iwi'

By Anne-Marie Emerson

Legislation that means Whanganui - spelt with an h - is an official name for the city has restored the mana of local iwi, says Maori Party co-leader and the MP for Te Tai Hauauru, Tariana Turia.

The legal limbo over Wanganui's name has finally come to an end, with Parliament yesterday passing legislation allowing the city to adopt both Wanganui and Whanganui as its official names.

Wanganui - or Whanganui - is now the only town or city in New Zealand with two names.

Mrs Turia said the law change recognising the Whanganui name was a long time coming.

She said 'whanga' meant to wait and 'nui' meant long.

"I think today of the long wait for Whanganui iwi for the correct spelling of Whanganui to be recognised. There have been local body referenda, District Court meetings and submissions to the New Zealand Geographic Board.

"I am pleased that the decision reinforces the integrity of the Maori language, as well as restoring the mana of Whanganui iwi."

It's three years since the Minister for Land Information, Maurice Williamson, announced Wanganui would have alternative names, meaning people could use either Wanganui or Whanganui. Mr Williamson made the announcement in December 2009, after local iwi Te Runanga o Tupoho applied to the Geographic Board to have the spelling changed to Whanganui.

However, legally the two names could not be gazetted, or made official, until the legislation was amended. The Geographic Board will formally gazette both Wanganui and Whanganui within the next few weeks.

Mr Williamson said the legislation now provides more flexibility in the use of place names.

"[It] fixes an anomaly where the act could have been interpreted as requiring all alternative place names to be used in official documentation and publications. This amendment makes it clear that either name, or both, can be used.

"An example of this is Wanganui and Whanganui - either of which can be used in official documentation following the passing of this legislation."

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows welcomed the amendment.

"The debate over how we spell the name of our city - Wanganui or Whanganui - stirred real passion in our community on both sides of the debate. The result, which could never have pleased everyone but provides a good compromise, was to allow alternate place names to be used.

"Government departments will spell the name Whanganui, but everyone will have the flexibility to use whichever spelling they prefer. This also means that those who wish to change to Whanganui can do so gradually, minimising the costs in changing things like signage and stationary."

Mr Borrows said the most important thing was that the debate be brought to a close.

"I don't want to see Whanganui in the news for our arguments, I want to see it in the news for our successes, or for the way we ... meet our challenges."

Wanganui Mayor Annette Main said yesterday's decision would end confusion over which spelling was correct.

"This confirms the Minister of Land Information's original announcement in 2009 that either spelling is valid and will give people more clarity about their right to choose which alternative they recognise and prefer to use.

"While many people have been making the choice already during the time it has taken for the minister's decision to be formalised, it is good to now have it being confirmed through the gazetting process."

Ms Main said there was no plan at this time for Wanganui District Council to adopt the Whanganui spelling.

However, councillor Michael Laws, who was mayor in 2009 when the minister's decision was announced, and was the most vocal opponent of the "H" spelling, was unimpressed by yesterday's events, saying they changed nothing "in practical terms".

"Agencies and organisations have chosen their spelling since the original announcement in 2009, and even before then."

He said the correct historical spelling was Wanganui and only "political correctness and a poor grasp of history" has added the H.

"The current situation is a blunder, and will require future correcting."

Mr Laws said instead of offering a dual spelling of Wanganui/Whanganui, like Mt Cook/Aoraki, the minister chose both and then asked each individual or agency to choose either one or the other.

"One thing is for certain: local Wanganui people overwhelmingly prefer the spelling without the H."

Te Runanga o Tupoho chairman Ken Mair described Parliament's decision as "fantastic news".

"I think, as those agencies continue to adopt the H, people will do the same, because that will be the spelling they see, for example, on road signs, in maps and on TV," he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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