Māori Party campaigns to change New Zealand's name to Aotearoa

Jack Guy, CNNPublished 14th September 2021
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 26: Maori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer speak to media during the opening of New Zealand's 53rd Parliament on November 26, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. The opening of New Zealand's 53rd Parliament marks the start of the new three-year Parliamentary term. It is the first time Members of Parliament will meet as a Parliament.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
(CNN) — New Zealand's Māori Party has launched a petition to change the official name of the country to Aotearoa, its name in the te reo Māori language.
The campaign also calls on the House of Representatives to restore the Māori names for all towns, cities and place names, according to a statement announcing the petition on Tuesday.
"It's well past time that Te Reo Māori was restored to its rightful place as the first and official language of this country. We are a Polynesian country -- we are Aotearoa," reads the statement, which calls for the renaming process to be completed by 2026.
"Tangata whenua are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardised, and ignored. It's the 21st Century, this must change," it reads. Tangata whenua means "people of the land," but is used to refer to the Māori people in general.
Fluency in the Māori language fell from 90% in 1910 to 26% in 1950, according to the statement.
"In only 40 years, the Crown managed to successfully strip us of our language and we are still feeling the impacts of this today," said the party.
Today only 3% of the people living in the country can speak the language, it added.
"It is the duty of the Crown to do all that it can to restore the status of our language," continues the statement.
"That means it needs to be accessible in the most obvious of places; on our televisions, on our radio stations, on road signs, maps and official advertising, and in our education system."
On Tuesday, the party tweeted that the petition had received 12,000 signatures. "This is MASSIVE," reads the tweet.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not commented publicly on the petition, but it has already sparked opposition from David Seymour, leader of the right-wing ACT party.
"People are already free to use Māori place names," tweeted Seymour. "What the Māori Party is saying is it would like to ban people calling our country New Zealand."
In September 2020, Ardern said it was a "positive thing" that Aotearoa is increasingly used interchangeably with New Zealand.
But she said an official name change was "not something that we've explored."