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Feb 20, 2008 5:51 am


Biculturalism in New Zealand



Here in New Zealand one has a legion of choices in filling out the census forms: Maori, New Zealand-European, Pacific Islander, and a host of others. Lacking until recently, however, was the choice, simply, of"New Zealander." This is an officially"bicultural" society, meaning the two (and only two) relevant categories politically are Maori and Pakeha (the Maori word generally applied to those of European descent.)

But people found thess labels wanting, and said, in essence, that they did not consider themselves either. What to do? At this point, the government introduced its new option: New Zealander.

What happened next was unexpected. From 2000 to 2006 the percentage of the population identifying itself as New Zealander grew enormously -- by more than 300%, in fact."New Zealander" is the fatest growing segment of the population. What does this do to the idea of the nation as bicultural?

It's too soon to say. But with Maori and non-Maori flocking to the new category in droves, one cannot expect the much-flouted biculturalism of the last thirty years to continue to resonate. The result will surely be the increasing irrelevance of ethnic categories -- unless, of course, those with a vested interest manage to keep them alive.

And this is quite possible. The irony is that the more victories are won in defense of Maori treaty claims against the Crown, the more ethnic categorization diminishes in importance to the public, Maori and non-Maori alike. This has led to palpable frustration on the part of activists, especially in the weakening Labour government, who must now seek more robust expression of their aims. The next stop, they say, is the issue of sovereignty and a national constitution that will establish scope for non-parliamentary form of government along"traditional" Maori lines -- whatever that means.

I suppose one never knows where the ethnic identity bandwagon will stop. A lot of New Zealanders are trying to jump off. Will the system let them?

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Robert Crane - 2/20/2008

"the Maori word generally applied to those of European descent."

Don't you mean NOT applied?

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