New Zealand's Maori party on September 14 launched a petition on its website to officially change the country's name to Aotearoa – a longstanding demand of the indigenous group. Aotearoa translates to "land of the long white cloud" in the Te Reo Maori language and is often used as a name for the Pacific island nation.
"It's well past time that Te Reo Maori was restored to its rightful place as the first and official language of this country. We are a Polynesian country, we are Aotearoa," said Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pati Maori.
The indigenous party also called for the national parliament to "identify and officially restore the original Te Reo Maori names for all towns, cities, and places right across the country by 2026." "Tangata Whenua [indigenous people] are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardized, and ignored. It's the 21st Century, this must change," Waititi said in a statement.
The Maoris are the largest ethnic minority, representing 16.5 per cent of the population. Te Reo Maori became an official language of New Zealand in 1987, alongside English.
'No historical credibility'
The name Aotearoa, however, has a contested history, not least as it is believed to have originally been used to refer only to the North Island, rather than the country as a whole.
New Zealand's former deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters criticized the petition as "left-wing radical bulldust." "Changing our country's name and town and city names is just dumb extremism," said Peters, the leader of the nationalist New Zealand First party.
"We are not changing to some name with no historical credibility. We are for keeping us New Zealand," he tweeted. Last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stopped short of backing a similar proposal.
"I hear more and more often the use of Aotearoa interchangeable with New Zealand and that is a positive thing," she has said in response to a question on the issue, according to the New Zealand Herald .
Over the years, government officials and even some companies have used Aotearoa interchangeably with or alongside New Zealand, including on citizen's passports. The name New Zealand comes from the colonial era when cartographers from the Netherlands named it after the westernmost province Zeeland.