Rotorua to become the first bilingual city in New Zealand

NZ 28/07/2017

Rotorua is set to become New Zealand's first official bilingual city.

The Rotorua Lakes Council voted unanimously in support of the proposal on Thursday.

Mayor Steve Chadwick said becoming the country's first bilingual city is a natural fit.

"We were moving in this direction anyway- we're a top tourism destination and we have a very strong bilingual community; the next step is to tell our stories."

"It's much more than a symbol for us - the heartland of Māoridom."

Almost 40 per cent of Rotorua's population identify as Māori.

As part of the project, alongside Māori and English signage, Te Reo will be actively promoted.

Ms Chadwick said there would be an emphasis on the digital, too, with apps developed to interpret and translate stories from the city.

"We've had these Māori street names for a long time and [this] will tell stories better."

Leading the charge for the proposal is council partner Te Tatou o te Arawa, and board member Te Taru White said it was a great start on a new journey of increased presence of Te Reo.

"It means creating more visibility for the Māori language - and in doing so creating a new experience for a lot of people who visit, also a new experience for people who live in Rotorua."

Mr White said raising the profile would mean a new understanding of the stories behind the names, and an appreciation that Te Reo is a constitutionally recognised language.

To possible detractors of the proposal, Mr White said it mattered because of people, culture and place.

"It matters that we are the cultural tourism centre of New Zealand. We're the birthplace of tourism."

Ms Chadwick said they were unsure of what the proposal would cost at this stage.

Mr White said they "talk about the cost of all of this, but people aren't talking about the value of it as well."

"It's quite linear when you walk around the streets- if you raise the profile of the street names and start talking about the relationship between those people as more than its streets then you're telling a new history about this place."

He said they haven't determined how much money will go into the project, but noted that the Government is supporting a revitalisation of the Māori language through a $21m injection in the budget this year, and they intend to go for portion of that

A combination of iwi and council would come to the party, he said.

Speaking on the AM Show on Friday morning, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Jacinda Ardern said she supports taxpayer funding for it.

"I think Steve's a wonderful Mayor, and the perfect person to be leading the charge on this. It's a great idea."

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett encouraged the mayor to apply for tourism funding.

"So many come here because of our unique Māori culture, and to get immersed in that", she said.

"I think it would generate more income for the city. We've got money - we've got $100 million in that infrastructure fund, and some of it is for signage and stuff like that."