Story: Biculturalism

Page 3. Continuing debates

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‘Not bicultural enough’

Biculturalism has been criticised for not going far enough, by restricting more extensive forms of Māori self-determination. Some have argued that reform of existing institutions and processes is superficial, and does little to advance Māori culture and treaty rights. These people argue that true biculturalism demands the development of different and specifically Māori institutions to more meaningfully express the treaty partnership.

Human rights lawyer Moana Jackson has argued for a more substantial form of biculturalism through the establishment of a Māori justice system. Professor Whatarangi Winiata has argued for New Zealand’s parliamentary democracy to better reflect the nature of the treaty partnership. Rather than simply reforming the British-derived institution of Parliament, Winiata would prefer parallel institutions giving equal recognition to Māori traditions and culture. He proposes a ‘tikanga Pākehā’ (Pākehā tradition) House of Representatives, where Pākehā and other non-Māori cultures’ ways of doing things is reflected, and a ‘tikanga Māori’ House reflecting a Māori way of doing things. Sitting above both these houses of Parliament would be a Treaty of Waitangi House, with representatives from Māori, Pākehā and other non-Māori cultures. This model, Winiata believes, best represents the dual heritage of New Zealand, and is truly bicultural.

‘Too bicultural’

Biculturalism is also criticised for going too far in promoting Māori culture above the many other cultures in New Zealand. Some people do not agree that the Crown has particular obligations to Māori as the indigenous people of New Zealand and the Crown’s treaty partner.

Multiculturalism or biculturalism?

New Zealand is home to many different peoples with different cultures, but the state officially recognises only the dominant Pākehā culture and the indigenous Māori culture. Some would prefer that New Zealand was officially a multicultural, rather than bicultural, nation. This would mean, in policy terms, that the state would officially recognise and provide for the culture, language and rights of multiple cultures, not just Pākehā and Māori.

However, people who support biculturalism believe an official multicultural policy would make Māori culture and language no more or less important than other cultures and languages. They argue that the Treaty of Waitangi establishes a particular expectation for the Crown to protect the rights of Māori. Many people who support biculturalism see it as an important foundation for a successful multicultural New Zealand. It is important that all people have the freedom to exercise their culture preferences; the debate is about which cultures should get official recognition from the state.

Multi or bi?

Political scientist Richard Mulgan has commented that ‘[t]he most accurate summary of New Zealand would ... be: one nation, two peoples, many cultures … biculturalism does not deny the existence of other cultures besides Pākehā and Māori; it merely denies them and their cultures special recognition.’1 Ranginui Walker remarked, ‘Māori remind Pākehā that becoming bicultural enough to be at ease in the other founding culture of the nation is the first step towards becoming multicultural.’2

Bi-national or bicultural?

Some people have suggested the need to talk about New Zealand as bi-national, rather than bicultural. ‘Bi-nationalism’ sees New Zealand as one country with two nations – Māori and non-Māori. This model would allow the non-Māori nation to be multicultural, and allow Māori the opportunity to pursue greater autonomy.

In 1997 Race Relations Conciliator Rajen Prasad appealed for a new way to think about New Zealand which avoids the debates of the past. He described New Zealand as ‘a multi-ethnic society with an indigenous culture and with a founding document that regulates the relationship between iwi and Crown.’3

Governments in the early 2000s have been reluctant to make strong statements about biculturalism. Political scientist Dominic O'Sullivan believes that by 2004 debates on biculturalism had been largely replaced by ideas about individualism, democracy and justice in the way governments and the public sector talk about New Zealand. But in the 21st century the idea of biculturalism was still debated, discussed and developed.

Footnotes:
  1. Richard Mulgan, Maori, pakeha and democracy. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 9. Back
  2. Ranginui Walker, Ka whawhai tonu mātou: struggle without end. Rev. ed. Auckland: Penguin, 2004, p. 390. Back
  3. Quoted in Augie Fleras and Paul Spoonley, Recalling Aotearoa: indigenous politics and ethnic relations in New Zealand. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 221. Back
How to cite this page:

Janine Hayward, 'Biculturalism - Continuing debates', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biculturalism/page-3 (accessed 22 November 2017)

Story by Janine Hayward, published 20 Jun 2012