06 Jan, 2021 Bicultural or multi-cultural? (Defining some vocabulary – and why it’s important)

Bicultural or multi-cultural? (Defining some vocabulary – and why it’s important)

This article is written in the hope that it might help us, as the Christian community across this nation, find some needed simple answers to some simple questions. Here are thoughts on a small handful of questions. What do you think?

Q1 – Are we bicultural – or multicultural?

How about the idea that we are concurrently both!

  • Bicultural’ – is like our ‘constitutional’ identity, affecting protocol in formal gatherings, and in greetings, laws and language. (Te Tiriti was an agreement between Māori and the British Crown – bringing two distinct people’s together under one Government).
  • Multicultural’ – is our daily relational reality, with sensitivity to each individual.

It is the same as being concurrently a ‘Christian’ nation and a multi-religious nation

  • We are ‘Christian’ – in the sense that it is this faith’s values that we so very clearly embraced together early in our bicultural history (though with Māori leadership notably not present in the first Parliament)
  • We are concurrently ‘multi-religious’ – because our Christian heritage affirms the freedom of the will, so faith cannot be coerced. There is therefore the freedom of religion.

As with being both bicultural and multicultural, the former could rightly affect public gatherings and protocols, while the latter is about giving common grace, and showing appropriate sensitivity. to all people.


Q2 – Of what importance is Te Tiriti o Waitangi to a Pākehā?

For some backdrop to the question, New Zealand was recognised by Britain as a sovereign Māori state from 1835 onwards as a result of He Whakaputanga – The Declaration of Independence. This is why a Treaty was needed for before the British Crown could assume any  jurisdiction over / responsibility for the behaviour or welfare of non-Māori here – because the various Māori people’s were collectively recognised as the sovereigns!


Te Tiriti o Waitangi was therefore an agreement between Māori and the British Crown, uniting Māori and Pākehā with implications for both groups.

  • For Māori – it gave protections
  • For Pākehā – it gave the right to be on and in this land.

To note it, without Te Tiriti o Waitangi, all uninvited Pākehā would be intruders. Non-Māori are only rightfully here because of Te Tiriti.


Why then is Te Tiriti viewed more as a document belonging more to Māori than to  Pākehā?

  • It is because the promises to Māori that were betrayed. We are therefore now trying to work out how to rectify that.


Some resulting vocabulary:

There are therefore two distinct people groups, and we are all a part of one of these groups (though some are a part of both groups).

  • Tangata whenua – referring to Māori, who are ‘the people of the land.’
  • Tangata Tiriti – referring to non-Māori, who are ‘the people of the Treaty.


Q3 – Is a person who is not a Māori a ‘Pākehā’ or a ‘non-Māori’ – and what’s the difference?

‘Pākehā’ means foreigner, but also has the connotation that someone is of European decent. Pākehā (Paakehaa) meant to be pale, or to be an imaginary being, resembling a man.

  • Incidentally, a kaumatua I met with early in January 2021 prior to publishing this article told me his ancestors through the white man looked like a ‘ghost’, and this is what caused many of his elders early on to revere and listen more openly to the first Europeans.
  • In consideration of the innuendoes, another Māori, when introducing me on one occasion, was careful to point out that I was not a Pākehā – because the innuendos of that term were to him synonymous with a colonialists value system. Another kaumatua this past year told me how he viewed many of his fellow kaumatua (who are Māori) as being Pākehā – by which he meant their values were wrapped up in money and gain for themselves more than their people or any reverence for the sacredness of their lands. Aka, to some, the term Pākehā is now being used in reference to a value system.

This is why some Chinese New Zealanders might sometimes see themselves as a New Zealander of Chinese descent, rather than as a ‘Pākehā’.

However, it remains that the Chinese New Zealander is only rightfully allowed here because of the same Treaty as the rest. They are ‘Tangata Tiriti’ just as much as a New Zealander of European descent. Hence why ‘non-Māori’ as a common term, rather than ‘Pākehā’.

Here are some options for our vocabulary:

  • Māori and Pākehā
  • Māori and non-Māori.
  • Iwi and tauiwi (foreigner).


Q4 – What does it even mean to be ‘bicultural‘ 

How about the idea that it’s about being comfortable functioning in two different modes of operation?

  • We are able to be comfortable under both tikanga Māori (Māori protocols) and tikanga Pākehā (European protocols).
  • We are able to adapt our approaches accordingly – without discomfort, and without impatience or annoyance.

Regarding a possible boundary this implies: How about the ideas that being ‘bicultural’ does not therefore imply that we need to know te reo / the language – even though we might choose to (and might logically develop an ever-growing vocabulary if often exposed to tikanga Māori)?

The point of being ‘bicultural’ is that one culture doesn’t have to dominate. Both are possible – and we fluidly transition between them when relating to different people, and in different places, because we’re accustomed to them – because that’s who we are.



One point that stands out here is that many of us actually are not accustomed to both the Pākehā and Māori worlds – and that is the issue. We’re a bicultural nation that is functioning mono-culturally. It’s also very difficult for the dominant culture to accept that they might need to change.


Q5 – But didn’t Hobson say to Māori ‘now we are one‘? (What can’t we just be one people?)

It’s like a marriage. Two do become one – just like the pastor says in the wedding. But they also still remain as two separate and distinct people! This is why marriages take work!

Our bicultural partnership (though some debate these terms) is exactly the same. The Treaty was not supposed to be about solidifying the superiority of one culture – to put it in a place of dominance. Two peoples become like one – but they are still two distinct peoples (iwi and tauiwi).


And the conclusion of the matter? Yes, two becoming one does take grace, love and effort. But if it is the dynamic we agreed to do under God,  then it is what we agreed to!


And why is all this ‘vocab’ important?

Because it’s hard to discuss something we don’t have a terminology for!  
For example, if we thought we were multicultural – as if that were in tension with being bicultural, we might have missed the entire point!
What do you think?

Other blogs by Dave Mann on this general topic

(From oldest to newest)


5 self-print bulletin-booklets for your church 

  • Called ‘Then and Now’ – about outreach and our early bicultural story, to give to church members with the bulletin over a 5 week period here (These booklet also encourager support of the Hope Project – which takes some of these stories to the public square).


An easy-to-read option to educate yourself, elders, children’s and youth leaders – and then all members (children, youth and adults)

  • Consider the illustrated novel series: ‘The Chronicles of Paki – Treaty of  Waitangi Series’. These can be found at BigBook.nz. View a blog with displaying some of its endorsements here.


Waitangi weekend sermon outlines (free)

  • ‘Three Treaties’ (Gibeonites, Waitangi and Jesus) from Dave Mann is (word doc) here, with power point here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Leaving a legacy’ – edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc)  here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Joshua and the Treaty (five treatise)’ –  edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc) here


The Te Reo Pulpit Challenge


DAVE MANN. Dave is a creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing, and also being valued, in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and recently coordinated a 5th nationwide multimedia Easter project purposed to help open conversation between church and non-church people about Christianity take place, including regarding the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values. Dave is the author of various books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last”, “The Elephant in the Room”, and available for free on this site: “The What and How of Youth and Young Adult ministry”. Married  to Heather, they have four young boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.  

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