Forget about a good old-fashioned democratic vote by the citizens. A board that seems to have a strong weighting of Maori (at least on a population basis), and whose members are nominated by mountaineers, geographers, politicians and Ngai Tahu, will decide if Wanganui remains Wanganui or becomes Whanganui.
Local Maori are pushing for the change.
But a 2006 referendum found more than 80 per cent of residents preferred no change
Mayor Michael Laws is siding with the vast majority of his citizens.
He argues (plausibly) that the city and district may have its name derived from the Maori language, “but almost 170 years of usage has given the name an identity and mana of its own.”
That sounds eminently sensible to Alf.
The city council yesterday voted in favour of no change.
Trouble is, the council vote – and the citizens’ vote – don’t count for much.
So who has the authority to over-ride the wishes of Wanganui citizens?
If you said the Geographic Board, you are almost right. But not quite.
It’s an outfit with the grand-sounding name The New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa.
It has its own pages on the LINZ website, where we learn it
assigns, approves, alters or discontinues the use of names for geographic features (eg place names), undersea features and Crown protected areas in New Zealand, its offshore islands and its continental shelf and the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.
It’s a statutory body of government operating under the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008 and reporting to the Minister for Land Information.
Among other things, the legislation supports the ongoing, every day need for consistent, correct identification of geographic features.
The board is chaired by Dr Don Grant (the Surveyor-General) and has eight other members – Ms Sylvia Allan, Dr Sir Tipene O’Regan, Dr Wharehuia Milroy, David Barnes, Dr Kay Booth, Dr Apirana Mahuika, Professor Michael Roche, and David Mole (a LINZ official).
There should be a Local Govenrment representative (presumably to bat for the Wanganui City Council in this case) but the post is vacant. Mayor Laws might consider applying
Alf doesn’t know how many members of the board are Maori, but three have Maori names.
Members are nominated by a curious mix of organisations – Federated Mountain Clubs, the New Zealand Geographical Society, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the Minister of Māori Affairs, the Minister for Land Information, and Local Goverment New Zealand.
Why Ngai Tahu gets to nominate a board member, but not any other tribe, is a helluva good question.
And why should mountaineers get a seat at the table, but not postal delivery workers, courier drivers, bus drivers, cyclists, or umpteen other categories of citizen with an interest in whether we live in or travel to Wanganui or Whanganui?
But as it stands, there’s a strong whiff of likelihood that Laws, his council and the big majority of his citizens are about to be rolled by this outfit.