'It's Kororāreka - it always has been and always will be'

By Mare Haimona-Riki

The Bay of Islands town more commonly known as Russell may have its name officially changed to its original Māori name: Kororāreka. 

Kororāreka Marae chair Deb Russell (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Awa, Te Whānau a Apanui) submitted the application to the New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa at the end of 2021, and she was specific about her wording.

"What I submitted in that proposal was that the name needed to be restored," she says. 

“The reason I use restoration is because for us, as te iwi Māori and especially us that whakapapa here, we have never used another name aside from Kororāreka.”

Source / RNZ

The town was well known as Kororāreka until the early 1840s and stems from the story of an unwell chief who was nursed back to health with soup made from the little blue penguin (Kororā).

Russell's current name is taken from a former leader of the British House of Commons, Lord John Russell, who never visited Aotearoa. 

Rewiri says the proposal looks hopeful as it is being backed by many in and out of the community, including far north mayor Moko Te Pania, and former prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley.

“It's not just Māori who are supporting the kaupapa,” Rewiri says.

“I had an English man come to me and said he couldn't make the hui but that he was 100% in support of the name change.”

A NZ Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa spokesperson says the board is hoping for a decision to be made by mid this year, and isalso considering a dual name option, both the English and Māori name - an alternative that Rewiri politely despises.

“Who talks about Egmont anymore? It's just Taranaki. Who talks about Cook anymore? Its Aoraki. People are only wanting this option to please others.

“If that appeases people, they can write that in their submission but I’m looking forward to the day that we can celebrate that actually it’s Kororāreka. It always has been, it always will be.”