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Flavell: Of Place names and Profanities

NZ Geographic Board (Nga Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell, Member of Parliament for Waiariki

Tuesday 8 April 2008; 9.15pm

On the 13 September 2007, 143 countries of the world, united in an inspirational act of solidarity, signed up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of kotahitanga, of partnership and mutual respect.

One of those standards, Article thirteen of that Declaration, gives us an important global perspective from which to understand this new Bill, Nga Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa.

Article 13 states and I quote:

Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected.

This Bill then, in repealing and replacing the NZ Geographic Board Act 1946 is the ideal opportunity to enable a systematic and standardized approach to the official naming of geographic features with particular respect to indigenous place names.

Mr Speaker, the resurgence and revitalisation of te reo rangatira, te reo Maori, including original place names, is arguably one of the most significant features of the Maori renaissance in Aotearoa.

Mr Speaker, we are pleased that this Bill is consistent with the aspirations of Maori as recognised through the provision of clause 6 which is inserted to recognize and respect the Crown’s responsibility to take appropriate account of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Far from being symbolic, Treaty justice will be seen through three specific provisions, which are:

1. to collect original Maori names for recording on official charts and official maps;

2. to encourage the use of original Maori names on official charts and official maps;

3. and finally to seek advice from Te Taura Whiri i te reo Maori on the correct orthography (that is the spelling and macrons) of any Maori name.

As well as these specified functions, Schedule 1 of the Bill has been extended with an additional two persons to be appointed to the Board, on the recommendation of the Minister of Maori Affairs.

The Maori Party is very pleased to see such provisions.

Mr Speaker, the designated responsibilities outlined in the new functions of the Board give clear emphasis to the kaupapa of mana tupuna/ whakapapa – that connection which links us to our ancestors and our heritage.

And importantly, the recognition of the importance of mana whenua representation on the Board demonstrates the significance that has been placed on the kaupapa of kotahitanga - moving together as one in the pursuit of nationhood.

Mr Speaker, just how vital this issue of respect for Maori geographic names is, has been powerfully demonstrated in recent weeks by an unfortunate marketing gimmick that caused enormous offence through the association of Maori placenames with an English term of abuse.

The gimmick involved a gross obscenity being placed alongside three placenames, namely Whakamaru, Whakatane, Whakamoa.

While the dignity of this House requires that I avoid actually identifying the exact profanity used, the word's literal meaning takes its source in an highly offensive term denoting that the subject engages in sexual intercourse with his or her mother.

This, Mr Speaker, was a classic play on words yet in linking three indigenous placenames with one of the most offensive profanities in the English language it is difficult to think where anyone would find the humour. In fact a study published in 2000, found that British people considered this term of abuse second only to a term identifying a specific part of the female anatomy in severity.

I repeat, Mr Speaker, this is British people finding this term of abuse distasteful.

What was even more horrifying was that this gimmick which the Maori Language Commission described as demeaning Maori people, the Maori language, and indeed the reputation of our nation was treated as lighthearted and funny by a political party which supposedly takes an interest in family policies.

The comments from Peter Dunne that "Only when we can laugh together will we be able to move on” strike me as simply distasteful when thinking about the issue of incest, as indeed a letter to the Whakatane Beacon pointed out.

The Letter to the Editor from ‘Ngati Awa female of Whakatane’ concluded, and I quote: “Gentlemen, some jokes depending on their use and context applied are simply over the top, therefore deeming them to be offensive”.

Mr Speaker, I have gone into quite some detail about this issue as I am hoping that the point will be taken, that the placement of obscene profanities alongside Maori geographical names could not have been more offensive than in this instance.

Dun-edin, Dun-sandle, Dun-stan, Dunn-e? Still funny? No, not funny.

Due respect for the whakapapa denoted in the placename, as well as for the revitalisation and status of te reo Maori, will however, be greatly assisted through the provisions of the Bill we are debating tonight, and perhaps may see us avoiding being in such a situation again.

There are, however, Mr Speaker, three points of particular interest to us in the Maori Party which we will be interested in monitoring in the subsequent stages before the House.

The first is that pertaining to the proposal to devolve the official naming of suburbs to territorial authorities, and the official naming of protected areas to the Department of Conservation.

While we understand the rationale behind supporting the move towards the autonomy of the local authorities to best know their own communities, we are of course worried by the precedent set by the Whanganui District Council two years ago, in overthrowing the correct naming of the area as recommended by iwi (that is Whanganui with an h) to a made up word.

This was an issue which I conveyed in depth in my korero, in my speech at the first reading – but suffice to say, it is a real worry for most tangata whenua to see how the regime of ‘majority rule’ is used against Maori.

We in the Maori Party would believe that while there must be sufficient consultation with territorial authorities to ensure their advice about naming decisions is taken to heart – there must also be meaningful consultation with Maori, free of political or commercial influence at the local level.

Mr Speaker, the second major issue which we will be watching out for is the proposal to align place name changes in future Treaty settlement processes, more closely with the Board’s standard consultation procedures.

This again, does raise some difficulties for us. It would be our view that claimants need to negotiate directly with the Crown as Treaty partner and final settlement decisions (including place names) need to be made by those parties, otherwise the process could be compromised and seen as less durable.

Finally the issue which we note the National Party has indicated particular concern around is the new discretionary element set out in clause 24, detailing whether or not the public should be consulted before a place name is changed.

It would appear from analysis of the submissions that most groups considered the existing consultation processes are generally working well.

We did note, of course, that there was a strong preference for the Board to undertake direct consultation with iwi rather than using the present arrangements of a proxy consultation process with Te Puni Kokiri. The support for a more robust and culturally appropriate consultation process was strongly supported, as I understand it, where a place name proposal occurs in the rohe of the iwi concerned.

Submissions also identified the need for an adequate level of funding to ensure appropriate consultation takes place. There was also some advice from some local government submissions that the consultation principles in the Local Government Act 2002 could be used as a guide for Board consultation processes.

Mr Speaker, as will be well known in this House, the Maori Party has always taken an active interest in the adequacy of consultation processes initiated by the Crown. For the purposes of this Bill, we are keen to ensure that the maintenance and protection of the culturally appropriate place names remains a priority across all levels of local and central government.

We have borne witness to the cultural offence taken by mana whenua when tupuna names are misappropriated, are mis-spelt, mis-pronounced or shortened, for the benefit of the English speaking population.

Every iwi has experiences of names that have been treated with such contempt over generations. In some areas, such as was the case in the correcting of the spelling of Mount Parihaka in Whangarei, the mana has been able to be restored through respectful and meaningful consultation.

We have a particular and enduring interest in ensuring geographic place names are respected and protected, and we will continue to support the Bill on this basis.


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