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Chris Ford: 'H' Bomb Dropped On Whanganui - Hooray For That!

Chris Ford
Chris Ford

About two weeks ago, I blogged about Michael Laws and his insulting words to a kura kaupapa Maori immersion class at Otaki Primary School who wrote to him regarding the use of the 'h' word in Whanganui's name.

While I don't want to traverse over old ground, may I say that the Geographic Board has made the right decision to recognise the 'h' spelling of Whanganui in response to calls from local iwi. Laws' reaction to this decision has been nothing short of vitriolic and probably racist in undertone. Dismissing the comments of Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples that the people of Whanganui should accept the name change, Laws has proven that demagougery works when it comes to leading a provincial town on an issue like this. Besides, there were hundreds of other uncontroversial name changes proposed last week by the board but one simple name change has become controversial because just one affected region has a loud mouth, right-wing mayor as its leader - Michael Laws.

For one thing, I can't understand the fuss over the inclusion of just one letter either into the name. Personally speaking, if there were representations to the Geographic Board asking that Dunedin be renamed 'New Edinburgh' (which is the Gaelic meaning of my city's name) or that the area's Maori name of Otepoti be recognised, I would not have any objection as it would recognise the bi-cultural heritage of the Otago region as well.

Having said all that, I would urge that Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson formally dualise the name Whanganui/Wanganui to keep both sides happy. After all, Wanganui, even without an 'h' is a Maori name in and of itself but the use of the correct pronounciation would still go along way to respecting the tangata whenua of the region.

If I am to make reference to the city in the future, then I am happy to accept the Geographic Board's guidance and use Whanganui. If Michael Laws and his fellow travellers could (with perhaps a bone being thrown their way in being able to use Wanganui without an 'h' as well) can see their way towards doing this as well, then good.

Otherwise, I applaud the Geographic Board for dropping their version of an 'h bomb' - hooray for that!

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