Aotearoa/New Zealand national identity is an ever evolving beast – in terms of class, gender, race, our land, who lives here, what behaviour is acceptable.
Anyone else remember when not dropping litter was bound up with being a New Zealander?
When I walk on the rubbish-laden Petone beach, it could almost be my father muttering feverishly at the plastic bags, bottles and food wrappers.
But perhaps the most contested arena in terms of identity concerns names and symbols. In colonising New Zealand, English names (in particular) were given to already named landmarks – without Maori necessarily paying much attention to this. So many of our “renamed” names – Aoraki, Taranaki, Matiu Island – actually just go back to the default Maori name.
We do, however, have more indigenous place-names than other colonised lands, perhaps because back in 1894 the Designation of Districts Act stated future naming should use original Maori names where they existed.
Name changes have been made in compensation for Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. Ngai Tahu had 80 place names in the South Island become dual Maori/English place names as part of their settlement in 1998. Mt Egmont officially became the name local iwi had been calling it for centuries when the Geographic Board decided it should also be known by Taranaki (the Mt in front isn’t necessary, as “tara” means mountain peak).
“New Zealand” itself first appeared in a 1646 world map when Joan Blaeu, the official Dutch cartographer to the Dutch East India Company, named the lands spied by Abel Tasman in his 1642 jaunt around the south seas ‘Nova Zeelandia’, the Latin equivalent of the Dutch ‘Nieuw Zeeland.’ I cycled around Zeeland in the Netherlands not only because I love cycle-touring, but because of the connection to us. The land is beautiful, wild and covered with towering sand dunes which look slightly unreal.
There’s a new movement to rename New Zealand by using a Maori word – one most historians believe has only been used since colonisation, because Maori didn’t use a word for the whole country. Maori now often use “Aotearoa” (ah-or-tay-ah-row-ah) – and I like both names, because let’s face it, for most of us, our connection to the Netherlands is less tangible than our connections to tangata whenua here.
The Aotearoa Rename Movement proposes we go with Aotearoa New Zealand, let people get used to the change, before moving to just plain Aotearoa. As well as placing us in the Pacific context our islands inhabit, they point out this means we’d aphabetically beat Australia in the Olympics.
But seriously, other Pakeha New Zealanders with doubts about how “European” you are should visit the UK and Europe. You’ll quickly realise that you’re not in fact “European” by how you are treated, and by the cultural and social norms we take for granted living here.
Migrating to Aotearoa, trying to establish a “better Britain“, and colonising by force and legislation while still retaining a self-image of having the best race relations in the world has left European descendants who call Aotearoa/New Zealand home with some base value systems that differ from many British and European people.
We can’t think of our country as the centre of the universe because it was once true the sun never set on our empire. We don’t accept at face value that the way we talk is “right”, and everyone else is “wrong.” We tend to be a little kinder in how we approach strangers, people in need, people giving service. We tend to soften power differentials rather than revel in them.
These are gross, stereotypical generalisations of course – but any sense of nationhood or nationality inevitably holds such simplifications. My point is simple. White New Zealanders are not Europeans, though we are of European descent. We are Pakeha – white people irrevocably shaped by our relationship to this land, to the other peoples of this land. To living in the Pacific, alongside Maori.
So I’d like a name which honours this – and I’m happy sticking with Aotearoa New Zealand – because the story of both namings interests me.
Which is one of the reasons why the repeated requests to Transit NZ to fly a tino rangatiratanga flag on Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day by Maori sovereignty group Te Ata Tino Toa are kind of interesting.
Instead of proudly flying, for one day a year, a symbol of Maori pride and resilience, Transit NZ flatly refuses, because they say the flag does not represent a nation state. Yet they have flown both the EU and yachting Team New Zealand flags.
Transit NZ were criticised by some, but the bridge has remained without a trace of tino rangatiratanga.
In 2008 Te Ata Tino Toa made the largest known Maori sovereignty flag instead, and flew it around Auckland.
Now they’ve written to new Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples to ask for his support in flying the flag.
Be interesting to see where this government stands on national symbolism. I’m expecting to see the tino rangatiratanga flag flying proudly over the Auckland Harbour Bridge next year – I have faith in Pita Sharples being able to explain why this is important to those who might feel threatened.
And that will put the cat among the pigeons a little – because historically in Aotearoa New Zealand, it’s been the political side which most plays to our sense of national self which has “won” debates. Are the National Party and the right going to find ways for Pakeha New Zealanders to be proud of who we are and proud to be tangati tiriti to Maori’s tangata whenua?
Labour and the left failed miserably last important national identity debate, giving New Zealand United Nations censure for passing discriminatory law in the shape of the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
Left or right, that’s certainly not part of the desired national identity for the vast majority of kiwis.