NZ not just a Pākehā country, but a Māori country as well

A cross section of New Zealand at the rugby. PHOTO: ODT FILES
A cross section of New Zealand at the rugby. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The 2023 census numbers are out and show that over one-quarter of New Zealand’s population are of Asian or Pasifika ethnicity.

Some would argue that this confirms that the policy of biculturalism is over, but I would question that. This is because multiculturalism and biculturalism operate in two totally different spheres.

Canadian psychology researchers J.W. Berry and Rudolf Kalin defined three main characteristics of a multicultural society. The first is that a society values diversity and is open to the arrival of other cultures.

New Zealand promotes itself as a tolerant society that is welcoming to cultures from all around the world.

The second characteristic is that immigrants are able to keep and express their cultural traditions as long as they don’t violate the country’s laws.

In New Zealand there are some cultural practices that are banned such as smacking children and child marriages. We have even changed our laws to outlaw cultural practices that we had previously been unaware of, such as when female genital mutilation was banned in 1996.

However, banning a few practices does not prevent groups from holding on to their significant cultural values, traditions and celebrations.

The third characteristic is that all cultural groups are able to participate in society in a fair and equitable way. If immigrants are expected to become indistinguishable from Pākehā then the society is not multicultural. If they find employment difficult because they wear cultural or religious headdresses, speak English with an accent, or have ‘‘exotic’’ names, it does not meet the standard to be a multicultural society.

However, there are some limitations with multiculturalism. A multicultural New Zealand can be ignored by the majority. It is a lesser form of relationship that creates no change to the power structure.

It allows other cultures to be here, but ‘‘settler New Zealand’’ values, laws, expectations and obligations don’t need to change. In other words, immigrants can come here, but it is on the dominant culture’s terms.

Biculturalism on the other hand has a different emphasis. When the British handed over government in 1852 they did so to the settlers rather than to all those who lived in New Zealand.

The settlers and their descendants ensured Māori were marginalised and that the country’s institutions would be run from one British cultural perspective. New Zealand was to be a place where all government policy, all Acts of Parliament and the delivery of services was to conform and be controlled based on British values.

Māori had to adapt to a foreign language and a foreign culture with its foreign values imposed on the entire Māori population. There was little tolerance for the language, processes, values, expectations and obligations that were of value to Māori. (We still see some of that intolerance today.)

In the 1980s, New Zealand was almost entirely monocultural with Māori culture pushed to the margins, often only seen in public for sporting or entertainment purposes. Māori had complained about this monoculturalism for more than 100 years and

the fact that much of what was important to us was continuously ignored by the state.

In many ways it was in 1984 with the launch of the Te Māori art exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art that people were made to sit up and see that New Zealand wasn’t just a Pākehā country, but that it was also a Māori country.

Biculturalism had already been proposed as a way of incorporating the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi and recognising that we have two distinct cultures, Māori culture and a New Zealand culture that is based primarily on British values.

Biculturalism as a policy sought to implement Māori language, values and practices into our laws, governmental practices and institutions. It required government departments to report on their responsiveness to Māori and sometimes included some power sharing in areas where Māori had a traditional interest.

In summary, multiculturalism is the welcoming of diversity, maintenance of their culture and being able to participate in society. In some ways it is misnamed and multiethnic may be a clearer description.

Biculturalism brought Māori values, customs and processes into government agencies and those it funds, and required government departments to report on their responsiveness to Māori and to the Treaty of Waitangi.

We can see that biculturalism and multiculturalism are not mutually exclusive terms. They can both occur and have different expectations and obligations for those in power. Biculturalism can still be a useful framework for our future.

However, there are some who dismiss Māori culture as something that, like religion, is private or personal. Some fear it because they don’t understand it, others fear it because they can’t control it.

Thankfully there are many who, along with us, consider that New Zealand is also a Māori country.

 - Dr Anaru Eketone is an associate professor in the University of Otago’s social and community work programme.