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As part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s process of settling historical Treaty of Waitangi claims, a settlement is expected to be completed soon in relation to the maunga (mountain) known to Māori as Taranaki. In addition to recognising the maunga as a legal person, the settlement will reportedly make Taranaki Maunga the landmark’s sole official name. More than 250 years after Captain Cook imposed the name Mount Egmont on the landscape, that name will finally disappear from the map. Few people today are likely to mourn the loss of this name, but things were very different 35 years ago. In 1986, ‘Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont’ was recognised as the official name of the maunga. The path to that compromise, in which Māori and European names sat side by side, was bitterly contested by many Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) who feared the removal of a name they saw as tied to their sense of identity. For Taranaki Māori, who had patiently campaigned for restoration of the Māori name, the decision was another step towards recognition of their deep connections with their sacred maunga. This article provides an account of the debate over the name of the maunga that took place in 1985-86 and looks at how identity, history, race relations and democracy were discussed in the debate. It also reflects on the reasons why there was such intense contestation over the name, and the debate’s relevance to the new Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum.
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