Biculturalism. It's a hot topic in New Zealand right now. One which interestingly shows a trend that waxes and wanes over time.

Recently the use of the word “bicultural” in private business has been under a bit of focus. All of a sudden it’s cool to korero (discuss) and private business is liking it. So why the swing and what’s the logical end game that we aim to witness in the partnership stakes between Māori and non-Māori in New Zealand?

Biculturalism in New Zealand has a strongly defined beginning with the arrival of the second non-Māori culture, being European, around the late 1700s. With two cultures there became potential for development of a journey towards biculturalism and with a journey there is logically the potential for an end point at some stage. Seems plausible right? Well let’s see. 

Bicultural - having or combining the cultural attitudes and customs of two nations, peoples, or ethnic groups. – Anon

Prior to 1769 the local people of New Zealand (Māori) were called New Zealanders by the European visitors and this persisted for the next 80 years. Europeans in New Zealand did not wish to be considered ‘New Zealanders’ and if they were referenced or introduced as White New Zealanders they would more than likely say, “No thanks, I’m an Englishman”. Prior to the 1860s, the predominant culture in New Zealand was Māori and the predominant economy in terms of GDP contribution was the tribal economy with significant international trade thrown in too.

Timatanga - The Beginning

When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand the dominant and pervasive culture was Māori. Many Europeans at the time took two paths, one of emersion or one of separation. Māori, on the other hand were not under such choice pressure so continued life as was normal, with new trading partners the major difference. This situation was distinctly non-integrated and definitely not bicultural but it worked for a time. As time progressed into the mid-1840s European culture became dominant and so began a journey toward becoming Pakeha (a white non-Māori New Zealander). Māori culture entered into decline with a building expectation placed on Māori to assimilate into the new Pakeha culture, also not bicultural. 

Putahi - The Middle 

Some time in and around the mid-to-late 1970s and into the 80s (more than 100 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi), a Māori renaissance took place. This occurred both at the hands of Māoridom itself with various protests over land rights and treaty breaches, and by the Government who established the Waitangi Tribunal to address emerging concerns. At a state sector level an emerging degree of leadership was seen in things like language recognition and advocacy for biculturalism. In the private sector however there was, and continues to be, a degree of silence. And whilst some companies with influence, including Beca are showing leadership in commencing this journey, most are right at the beginning of that thinking. 

Admittedly that’s a simplified summary of the last 150 – 200 years in New Zealand and the plight of biculturalism and Māoridom is better documented elsewhere. However where does that leave us today in terms of biculturalism, and where does private enterprise sit within biculturalisim and NZ Inc?;

Mutunga - The End 

The word “end” may not be the right word to use as it denotes a completeness, so perhaps it could be better phrased as “the end of the beginning”. 

With the eventual completion of Waitangi Tribunal settlements the onus could shift onto private business to pick up the mantle of forging a second wave of bicultural understanding in practise. The underlying premises within the Treaty of Waitangi around partnership are perhaps even more valid in this new era. Public - private partnerships are becoming more prevalent and economic development from an Iwi/Private partnership point of view is ramping up. 

A lofty goal might be arriving at a fully functional state of being between two worlds where we operate singularly and collectively in a seamless and fully accepted state. It’s entirely possible that the private sector as a whole is only just feeling the desire or the need to enter wholeheartedly into the development of its own understanding and journey toward bicultural practise and whilst it’s not clear where this journey will go, it should be a good one. 

There is tons of literature about the decline of the Māori culture in NZ - this article isn’t one of those.

What is evident though is that in the final stages of what might be termed the “Waitangi Tribunal era”, in which the claims under the principles of the Treaty are settled, there is an re-emerging powerhouse within the NZ economy. This is the Māori economy, dominated by strong asset base and savvy long term and multi-generational business investment.

How private business responds to this, and the drive toward Iwi/Private industry partnerships in the next 10 years may be the single most significant change we will see at the end of this first era of bicultural understanding in NZ.

John Blyth

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John Blyth

Māori Business Advisory Lead

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