18 May 2009

Spelling of Wanganui not just up to Maori, says mayor

10:01 pm on 18 May 2009

Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws says Maori should not have an exclusive say in the spelling of the city because they did not have a written language in the 19th century.

The council on Monday released a report by independent historian Diana Beaglehole about the origins of the spelling of Wanganui.

Ms Beaglehole was commissioned by the council and researched the city's history from the 1830s until the mid-1900s.

The report says the city was originally recorded in written form as Wanganui, not Whanganui. Ms Beaglehole says this is because local Maori did not have their own written language at that time.

Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws says for that reason, Maori do not have exclusive say in the spelling of Wanganui because it was early European settlers who gifted the written town name to iwi.

Mr Laws says the report will be submitted to an inquiry by the New Zealand Geographic Board.

Meanwhile, Wanganui District Councillor Rangi Willis says a referendum to ask citizens whether they prefer the city's name to be spelled with or without an "h", is culturally insensitive.

Mr Wills says this is not a democratic issue for Wanganui residents but a cultural one that should be resolved by Maori.

Ms Beaglehole says suggestions to include the "h" have been rejected by the council three times.