An Invercargill city councillor has publicly revealed his disdain for the use of te reo Māori in names after making an incorrect assumption at a meeting.

The incident occurred on Tuesday as councillors worked through a report on fees and charges, one page at a time, during an ordinary meeting.

When elected members reached a section on the soon-to-be-built Te Unua Museum of Southland, mana whenua representative Evelyn Cook pointed out the complex had been incorrectly titled “Southland Museum and Art Gallery Te Unua” in the report.

Cook also noted the charges detailed in that section related to services delivered by Te Kupeka Tiaki Taoka Trust — the board which oversaw the museum collection — which had not been mentioned anywhere.

Council chief executive Michael Day confirmed the page had been incorrectly titled and said it needed to be changed.

First term councillor Barry Stewart then interjected.

“Are we going to reverse all these European names and put the Māori names first on everything? Because I’m going to object every time.

“Evelyn’s busy saying, I’m presuming she’s saying, that the Māori name should be above.”

When a councillor sitting next to Stewart confirmed it was the name of the museum, Stewart responded: “I didn’t agree to it”.

Chair Tom Campbell clarified the museum’s collection had a te reo name which needed to be reflected in the report, while Cook reiterated it was a matter of consistency.

“If we are going to be consistent with decisions we have already made at this table, then the documents we produce should also reflect that,” she said.

Stewart was elected in 2022 as the twelfth and final councillor by a narrow margin of 26 votes.

Standing as a member of Mayor Nobby Clark’s Let’s Go Invercargill team, he semi-retired from his gas-fitting business to take up the position.

In his candidate statement, Stewart said he was strongly against “the framework around co-governance”.

By law, te reo Māori is an official language of Aotearoa, alongside New Zealand Sign Language.

English is considered a de facto official language due to its widespread use.

By Matthew Rosenberg, Local Democracy reporter

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air

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