Maori first, English second under Wairoa's new signage policy
Wairoa District Council has put its support behind a Maori-first signage policy as it works towards becoming the country's first bilingual town.
The council voted on Tuesday to implement a "Te Reo Maori policy" that includes gradually replacing its signage with bilingual wording featuring Maori ahead of English.
The policy will be subject to public consultation before it is formally adopted. But the council sees it as a "stepping stone" towards a previous goal – set in 2012 – of Wairoa become a fully bilingual town by 2040.
The small northern Hawke's Bay district has the highest proportion of Maori residents among all local authorities – 59 per cent of just under 8000 residents.
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Almost 19 per cent of Wairoa residents speak Te Reo, compared to 3.5 per cent of the population nationally.
The chairman of the council's Maori standing committee, Kiwa Hammond, said it made sense for Wairoa to lead the way with its language policy, given the district's demographics.
Under the policy, the council said its signs would gradually become bilingual "as resources permit" and where it is appropriate.
The aim of the council's 2012 initiative, Te Wairoa Reorua 2040, is to see widespread usage of Maori in the town's homes, schools, shops and workplaces.
Maori Affairs Minister Te Ururoa Flavell welcomed the concept, saying he believes bilingual communities could receive both an economic and cultural boost.
Last year, Wairoa electors voted in favour of setting up a Maori ward seat to be contested at next year's local body elections.
A similar proposal by New Plymouth District Council was resoundingly rejected by voters in a 2015 referendum.
Palmerston North City Council is currently considering Maori ward options.
Otaki and Rotorua, which also have proportionately-large Maori populations, are also working towards becoming bilingual towns.