Racist place names have to go – An open letter to the Minister

Today I wrote to the Minister of Land Information, Louise Upston, asking her to do the right thing and get rid of racist place names in Aotearoa.

19 July 2016

E te Minita, tēnā koe

I was horrified to learn recently that in 21st Century Aotearoa we still have explicitly racist place names, and am asking you to make decisions to remove Nigger from place names in New Zealand. I am pleased that as a result of members of the public calling for a change, two such names of locations in North Canterbury are now proposed to be changed, and I hope we can move quickly to see Nigger Stream renamed also. But it needs your signoff, so I write to you to ask you to act decisively here to ensure that our place names bring us together, not divide us.

In 2015, the New Zealand Geographic Board sought public feedback to change the place names Niggerhead, Nigger Hill and Nigger Stream. As a result of the process Niggerhead and Nigger Hill are proposed to be renamed Tawhai Hill and Kanuka Hill respectively. I, along with many New Zealanders, think it is time for you to now approval these name changes. I would appreciate your immediate attention and intervention to rename Nigger Stream also.

The Geographic Board has referred these decisions on renaming these places to you as the Minister for Land Information. This should be a fairly straightforward decision to make. In this day and age, there is no place for the ongoing racism that the use of this term represents.

The proposal is to rename Nigger stream to Pūkio Stream – Pūkio is a plant that is commonly found in swampy areas in Aotearoa. I don’t have a view on what the new name for the stream should be, but I do hope that Mana Whenua have been consulted on the proposal. Consultation on the proposal is open until 29 August – and I encourage people to submit to make their views known.

There’s no place in the world where this would be an acceptable name. In the US, many racially offensive place names were rooted out in the 1960s, with the process being started by the Kennedy Administration. As the responsible Minister, you now have a responsibility to act to change the name of this stream.

I remember, as a six year old living in 1970’s Dunedin, being told to go “go home nigger”. I didn’t know all the loaded history of the word; how it has been used for centuries to denigrate African Americans, or why it was being hurled at a little girl like me in Aotearoa. But I knew how it made me feel, and how the racism often directed at my family made me feel unsafe and unwelcome in my own community. People of colour from around the world can relate to how this word is spat in our faces with hate and venom.

We are a diverse, multicultural country and New Zealanders do not support the ongoing use of such racist terms. The vast majority would agree that it is long overdue that these sorts of names must be cleaned off our maps. Our shared values call on us to act.

Minister, it has fallen to you to make this happen. I trust you will make the right decision and stand up for what matters.

Nāku noa, nā

Marama Davidson

Green MP