Rant sparks debate over te reo road signs

By Will Trafford

A councillor’s racist rant about te reo Māori road signs has stirred controversy on the South Island’s West Coast.

Regional councillor and transport committee chair Allan Birchfield lashed out against a Waka Kotahi plan to add bilingual signs to roads in the rohe.

"Just explain this: We're going to have roadwork signs in Māori?" Birchfield probed at a transport committee briefing by NZTA.

School signs in the region had already been swapped out with ‘kura’ when they needed replacement, without incident, NZ Transport Agency regional relationships director James Caygill told the meeting. Words like marae had been used for years.

The agency was consulting on bilingual road signs, for roadworks and welcome signage.

"The majority of the people in New Zealand don't speak Māori, so they'll have no bloody idea what [a sign] is trying to say," Birchfield retorted.

Caygill said, the plan was only in consultation and they were essentially asking if "people would prefer to see 'haere mai' or both."

Caygill reminded the councillor most signs are equipped with imagery that mirrors the written word to avoid confusion, before another councillor Peter Ewen alleged NZTA was failing to comply with its own guidelines by proposing additional signs.

A "profusion" of signs at certain corners was a distraction for drivers, Ewen said.

Caygill said the agency was not focusing on increasing the number of signs, just consulting on inclusive approaches to te reo Māori on the region’s roads.

"That's not the point here, it's about what signs are where,” Caygill said.

- with LDR

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