Biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand

Aotearoa New Zealand is a bicultural country. The reality of what this means is complex in a place where the history of human habitation and the beginnings of cultural conflict were quite recent (source).

On a physical level, many schools I’ve visited prominently display Māori art:

Biculturalism means that there is a legal obligation to Māori people, despite the dominance of Pākehā (settler) culture. I am thankful for the orientation that Fulbright New Zealand Te Tūāpapa Mātauranga o Aotearoa me Amerika organized. The multiple pōwhiri (Māori welcoming ceremonies) provided me with a nuanced introduction to history and some of what it means to be on this land.  The photos below are from different marae (where pōwhiri take place) in the Wellington area. Marae were described to me as places where Māori culture is prioritized.

In an attempt to understand biculturalism more deeply I’ve studied local history, read the work of scholars, immersed myself in art, and spoken with people from a range of backgrounds. I learned about the Māori Renaissance that began in the 1970’s, read novels from local authors of all backgrounds, and listened closely as people describe their society and the relationships between different groups.

Biculturalism is an ideal that is often unfulfilled and yet it is a model that puts forth ideas that can be emulated. There is an intention of restorative justice that I have not witnessed in other parts of the world. I’ve heard some Pākehā speak of the evolution of Aotearoa NZ society in incredibly thoughtful and reflective ways. I’ve heard others describe social groups in ways that remind me of colonial, racist rhetoric from the United States and other parts of the world. I’ve heard Māori describe the challenges of existing in multiple worlds and learned that in Aotearoa NZ to embrace local customs and to speak (or in my case attempt to speak,) Te Reo Māori is seen as a sign of respect for indigenous culture rather than an act of cultural co-option. I’ve learned about education inequality and I’ve also learned about schools where Māori voices and texts are prioritized. Most recently I’ve been following the debate over how to rename some local roads.

To further complicate matters, Aotearoa NZ is a multicultural society with a significant migrant and refugee population drawn from different parts of the world. To group non-indigenous people into one category seems to do a disservice to the political histories and many cultural traditions that exist here.

As an outsider, but also in contexts where one is an insider, there is a dangerous tendency to summarize or offer a simplistic description of larger social issues. I feel this in my attempts to describe different situations in my country to others and in my attempts to understand a foreign land. Contrary to the message of many dominant voices, it is only with humility, self-awareness, and time that we can begin to understand the lives of others.

Note: This is a personal blog. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.   




One comment on “Biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand

  1. Would love to know more Josh, especially about how the Maori culture is prioritized and its interaction with mainstream narratives – how is it in the classroom and also in everyday life? Looking forward to …. a full length article perhaps, sometime in the future? :)

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