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New Zealand MP talks about the movement to change the country's name

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

New Zealand may soon consider a name change. There's a petition circulating to change the island nation's name to its Indigenous Maori designation of Aotearoa. So far, the petition has collected more than 70,000 signatures, prompting a parliamentary committee to consider the idea. Joining us now to talk more about this is New Zealand member of Parliament Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, co-leader of the Maori Party. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DEBBIE NGAREWA-PACKER: Thank you, Ailsa, and appreciate the call.

CHANG: Appreciate having you here - first, can you just describe for us what is the meaning behind the word Aotearoa?

NGAREWA-PACKER: So Aotearoa, as you quite rightly described, is the Indigenous name. It is indicative or prescriptive of the long, white cloud of the island as it's depicted often and the weather that we have down the sea into the world. But most importantly, it reflects indigenously who we are - that we are, in fact, in the Pacific, that we are an island nation and we're not in any way connected to the origins of New Zealand.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, you know, we should mention that the name Aotearoa - it's already on New Zealand dollars, on New Zealand passports. So can you just explain for us why it is important to your party to push for more - for a formal name change for the country?

NGAREWA-PACKER: Yeah, sure. I think first and foremost, as a Indigenous rights and interest party, it's really important that we dismantle some of the grips of colonization that have hindered our ability to reach our true potential. And one of the biggest things to date that's reflected in some of the poorest states across the nation is the lack of self-identity. So this is about, you know, resetting the balance. And it's something that hasn't just come from the party. I'd love to take credit for it, but it's actually something that's been called on from as old as some of our oldest ancestors post-colonization to us today, some of the youngest generations that are standing up calling for this in the local schools. So it is very much an intergenerational call. And just as importantly, it's not just coming from Maori. We have Tangata Kaitiaki, those who arrived here after the Indigenous people, who are also wanting to see the rebalance of our culture reflected in the nationhood of Aotearoa, really. Yeah.

CHANG: Well, polls indicate that more than half of New Zealanders want to keep the country's current name, New Zealand. But those polls also indicate that about 40% of respondents would support the name Aotearoa or Aotearoa New Zealand. So I'm wondering, like, how much hope do you have that this petition will succeed?

NGAREWA-PACKER: What I have hope about is that 70% of the Maori Pasifika population here are under 40 years old. Twenty-five percent are under 20 years. We are the growing population and with that comes a lot of interrelationships, a lot more comfort about the discomfort of our past. So I truly believe it's a matter of time. And again, this isn't about taking anything from anyone. It's actually about lifting trauma and bringing to life a culture that can enrich everyone's life in Aotearoa.

CHANG: Well, this will be so interesting to watch. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is co-leader of the Maori Party in the New Zealand Parliament. Thank you very much for joining us again. This was such a pleasure.

NGAREWA-PACKER: I appreciate your interest, and thank you for having me. (Speaking Maori).

(SOUNDBITE OF MF DOOM SONG, "RAPP SNITCH KNISHES (FEAT. MR. FANTASTIK)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Enrique Rivera
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.