Let our oldest name stand proud beside a new flag

Last updated 11:15 10/03/2014

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OPINION: The recent public floating of a New Zealand flag change by Prime Minister John Key has generally met with a supportive public response.

I believe this suggests that New Zealand is prepared to acknowledge its identity by creating a new flag which represents the nature and spirit of the nation - a uniquely South Pacific and bi-cultural nation which has evolved over time, and would now be ready to recognise the original name of Aotearoa.

To incorporate Aotearoa in our nation's title would not represent a name change, but would be simply a ratification and recognition of our indigenous name which has existed and been commonly used for centuries.

The name Aotearoa is in current use by various government agencies and private and commercial organisations.

It is also a word increasingly used by current print and electronic news media.

The last America's Cup challenge boat was named Aotearoa, not New Zealand as in previous challenges.

There has been no comment or objection to this use of Aotearoa. Surely this is an expression of our growing confidence and pride in our unique national identity, and our willingness to express it.

Aotearoa has a meaning which is specifically related to our country - "land of the long white cloud" - and describes what Kupe and the first settlers saw.

The name "New Zealand" was, centuries later, bestowed by a Dutch explorer who did not study the land, its fauna and flora, or its people and their culture - in fact, Tasman did not even set foot on it.

However, his action was common in that era and later - hence New Britain, New Zealand, New Guinea, New Hebrides, New Caledonia and others. All are names with no relation to the the lands, their peoples and their cultures, and all equally inappropriate.

My proposal to recognise our original and indigenous land title would sit well in tandem with a flag change - it would clearly illustrate to the world that we are no longer a "little brother" nation.

Citizens of Aotearoa are currently rightly concerned about the conservation of our natural and physical environment. We don't want our land, our beaches, rivers, forests and mountains raped and mutilated. They are central to our wellbeing; they are who we are.

But what about us? Surely we should be equally concerned for our personal identity and that of succeeding generations.

Aotearoa tells us and the world that we have our own unique identity, and that we will not allow it to be homogenised and mutilated by "Big Brother" countries (take that, Tony Abbott!).

Because this proposal to incorporate Aotearoa into our national title is simply a ratification and acknowledgement of an existing and established name in common use - ie, not a name change - a referendum should not be necessary.

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My proposal has been put in front of some ministers of the Crown who have responded negatively, and have expressed the view that to alter our national title would be confusing to the world and might be damaging to our international trading relations and prospects.

Their opinion is in direct contrast to our Government's insistence that we are clean and green, and have unique points of difference. If my proposal is so confusing, then surely a new flag would be equally so.

For residents who might prefer that our national title remain New Zealand, it is pointed out that the freedom of choice would remain, and in fact there would be three choices: Aotearoa-New Zealand, New Zealand, or Aotearoa, which others might elect to use.

This name choice is not uncommon. Examples include England, Britain and the UK, or US, USA, America. Double-barrelled names such as Papua-New Guinea as also not uncommon.

Most national titles do not have any, or such a beautiful translation as "land of the long white cloud" - a distinctive trade symbol advantage which is constantly overlooked.

Why were we taught it in school (by Pakeha teachers) if it is never to be used?

To our leaders and decision-makers, it is fair to say that this proposal would not generate political suicide, but rather be an enhancing game-changer that, together with the flag change mooted, might represent a groundswell of support. (If our Prime Minister would like to make the proposal his own, the author would be delighted).

  • Ewen Christie is a retired architect who lives in Nelson.

- Nelson


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