Since the late 19th century Pākehā have included Māori traditions, customs and images in displays of New Zealand’s distinctive national identity. Cultural and trade exhibitions featured Māori performers and art forms from the 1880s, and Māori traditional life was a key attraction of the country’s tourist destination Rotorua. From the 1900s Māori carving became accepted as a symbol of New Zealand. Important foreign visitors were greeted with a formal Māori welcome.
Māori population recovers
Some European representations of Māori, such as Goldie’s portraits or Elsdon Best’s writings, showed a nostalgia for a noble race that was presumed to have vanished or to be dying out. However, the Māori population increased twelvefold during the 20th century, to become 15% of the total New Zealand population by 2006. This remarkable recovery strengthened Māori demands for more equal treatment by state agencies. From the late 1960s Māori activists such as the young, urban-based Ngā Tamatoa movement, and also traditional Māori groups such as the Kīngitanga, called for the right to live as Māori within New Zealand society. The Pākehā anti-racist movement supported these calls.
British historian Simon Schama was struck by the relations between Māori and non-Māori when he visited New Zealand in early 2010. ‘Maori, and the descendants of intermarriages that go back deep into the 19th century, are to be found in every leading walk of life in the country. Of course there have been serious problems of unequal social opportunity, of street gangs. But if there is anywhere in the post-colonial world where two cultural worlds truly live an engaged life alongside each other, it’s in New Zealand.’1
From the 1970s New Zealand made a steadily stronger commitment to biculturalism – the idea that the Māori and Pākehā cultures could exist on equal terms. Major policy changes to reflect biculturalism were made by government departments and other state agencies. One of the most noticeable changes was made by the education system in response to declining use of the Māori language. By the 1970s this was in danger of disappearing and initiatives such as kōhanga reo (Māori-language pre-schools), kura (schools) and wānanga (universities) were set up to revive the language.
Perhaps the most lasting and influential change was made by the Waitangi Tribunal, set up in 1975 to investigate breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. Some historians believe that its research, and the settlements to Māori that resulted from claims, changed the face of New Zealand by setting a framework for the present and future relationship of the two treaty partners.
The new world
Many New Zealanders learnt about a Māori world largely invisible to them through the works of Māori writers such as Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace. Early short stories by both writers appeared in the 1970s in Te ao hou (the new world), a magazine published by the Department of Maori Affairs.
Changing attitudes between Māori and Pākehā were evident among the public as well as within official agencies. The 1974 funeral of former Prime Minister Norman Kirk included traditional Māori mourning ceremonies. The Māori land march of 1975, led by the formidable Te Rarawa elder Whina Cooper, brought Māori political issues to the centre of national life, where they have generally remained. In 1984 Te Māori, a major exhibition of traditional Māori arts and culture, toured museums in several large US cities and created more international attention than any previous New Zealand exhibition.
The 1980s onwards
Since the 1980s changes in the relationship between Māori and Pākehā have been major and irreversible. Māori have become highly visible in all aspects of New Zealand life, and open about, and proud of, their cultural identity. The Māori language is increasingly learned and used by non-Māori as well as Māori. Although Māori are still under-represented in professions and over-represented in prisons, specialist media such as Māori Television and successful individuals such as the singer Anika Moa and netball player Temepara George have transformed the image of Māori in the minds of non-Māori.