If I were to ask you what the name Tauranga meant, or Ōtūmoetai, Arataki or Greerton, chances are most or many would only know one at best.

The taniwha in the whare, or the elephant in the room, with this list of place names is Greerton.

The rest are Māori place names that have been around for many hundreds of years, yet we were not taught in school what they meant, who named them and how to pronounce them correctly.

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As for the elephant, or taniwha ki roto te whare, Greerton is named after Colonel Greer, and the road we all drive up and down on the way to Greerton is named after Colonel Greer's mate General Cameron, who led the charge on local Māori who stood tall for everything they had left to live for.

Both Greer and his mate Cameron had another mate, his name was Captain John Charles Hamilton, one of the crown commanders who was killed at the Battle of Gate Pā trying to take land off the local Māori.

The really interesting thing about Hamilton is they named a city after him, built a 160kg statue to honour him - yet he never ever visited Hamilton. Go figure huh?

Surely someone looked into his whakapapa before they commissioned the artist?

Apparently not. When it came to voting yeah or nah to the erecting of this statue, all but one councillor, including the only Māori councillor Margaret Forsyth, voted yes. Well done Makarete.

This week is Māori Language Week and one of the entry points into learning any language is to learn the names of local place names, how they are pronounced and who they were named after.

History is also a good way to learn a language and, for many Māori, whakapapa or lineage is the way we learn our language.

When the two worlds of European and Māori history reach a crossroad - as they are now doing - we need to walk with soft feet through a virtual landmine of learning.

Recently, across the Kaimai Range in Kirikiriroa (the Māori name for Hamilton) a local kaumātua wanted to teach a history lesson on how Hamilton got its name by vandalising the statue of this war warrior, so he spraypainted it red.

Although I don't condone his method of attracting media attention, it certainly has highlighted how we have allowed one half of our history to be taught and celebrated in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

In my opinion, Kirikiriroa is the rightful name of Hamilton, and Tūtarawanga, the area we know as Greerton, is much more appropriate.

Surely the time has arrived when we start teaching history in our classrooms from both Māori and Pākehā perspectives, so our kids can truly understand how these events have shaped our country today?

When I started looking into statues of our heroes in Aotearoa I could only come up with one - Pania of the Reef, standing on the foreshore in the Ngāti Kahungungu city of Napier.

There are a list of worthy wahine we could add to Pania to balance the bias toward our colonial conquerors. Dame Whina Cooper would work for most of us, as would the sister of Māori King Mahuta - Princess Te Puea - who, in my opinion, most certainly deserves recognition before Commander Hamilton for what she did for the people of Waikato.

Dame Te Ātairangikaahu, the Māori Queen, and Dame Tariana Turia are also worthy recipients of statuesque status.

Given we have the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Captain Cook to this country coming up next year, the subject of statues honouring one side of our history will become a hot hangi stone, as it will in our own backyard, so it makes sense to start teaching our tamariki the Māori language, music, kapa haka, and bicultural history at every opportunity.

Sure there will be a backlash from the old school Hobson's Choice classrooms, and the same old same old Ngati Whingers who will be penning their protests in this paper as we speak, but for the rest of us who understand what the names in our own backyard mean and how to pronounce them correctly - in honour of those who were heroic in the defence of their own land - we will walk forward with soft feet for our kids to follow, both Māori and non-Māori.

For me, the name Hamilton has slowly disappeared from my vocabulary to be replaced by the ingoa of Kirikiriroa, as will Greerton and Cameron.

If I am to make an honest attempt at bicultural partnership - as promised in the founding document of this country called the Treaty of Waitangi - I have to start somewhere, so learning the place names in my own backyard is a good place to give a go.

Kia kaha te reo Māori - Be strong and give the Māori language a go, there is nothing to lose by learning to korero and so much for the next generation to gain.


Broblack@xtra.co.nz Tommy Kapai Wilson is a local writer and best selling author. He first started working for the Bay of Plenty Times as a paperboy in 1966 and has been a columnist for 15 years. Tommy is currently the executive director of Te Tuinga Whanau, a social service agency committed to the needs of our community.