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Topic 15: Culture and identity

Culture and identity affect the way people perceive and express themselves in relation to others, and how they engage in social interaction. Expressions of culture are often closely related to the way people form, maintain, and strengthen their identity (sense of self).

Culture can be defined as a general way of life that contributes to national identity and society. Culture can also be defined as the shared knowledge, values, and practices of specific groups. People’s identity may relate to their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious and spiritual beliefs, or physical, artistic, and cultural activities.

New Zealand is a varied society with increasing ethnic diversity (see indicator 1.4). This diversity can bring economic benefits through, for example, innovation, access to overseas networks, and increased market knowledge. As the indigenous culture of New Zealand, Māori culture is unique to New Zealand and forms a fundamental part of the national identity.

Cultural expression and participation contribute to individual well-being and sense of belonging. The expression of, and respect for, cultural practices, language, and beliefs is part of a socially cohesive society. These expressions of culture are sustained by being passed down generations, and through the protection of heritage.

Main results

Between 1997 and 2008, the number of Māori children attending Māori immersion schools (where students are taught in te reo Māori) increased. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of Māori speakers of te reo Māori also increased. There is greater acknowledgment of other aspects of New Zealand culture and identity, with more local content on television since 1988 and an increase in the number of registered historic places between 2006 and 2008.

Table 15.1
Culture and identity indicators – key results

Culture and identity indicators - key results.

What the indicators tell us

Speakers of te reo Māori (indicator 15.1)

Language is intrinsic to expressing and sustaining culture by communicating values, beliefs, and customs. Māori language is central to Māori culture and an important aspect of cultural participation and identity. This indicator measures the proportion of Māori able to hold an everyday conversation in Māori language.

The number of Māori language speakers reduced dramatically during much of the 20th century. The 1973–78 New Zealand Council for Educational Research Māori Language Survey described te reo Māori as an endangered language, with only 18–20 percent of Māori able to speak Māori fluently (Benton, 1997).

Figure 15a shows that between 1996 and 2006, the proportion of the Māori population able to converse in Māori decreased from 25.0 percent to 23.7 percent. However, over the same period, as figure 15b shows, the number of Māori language speakers increased slightly.

Māori in older age groups are more likely to be able to hold an everyday conversation in Māori than those in younger age groups. Although in 2006 there were larger numbers of Māori speakers in the younger age groups, the proportion of speakers in the older age groups was much higher.

The 2006 Survey on the Health of the Māori Language, commissioned by Te Puni Kōkiri, provides information on language proficiency (Research New Zealand, 2007). For Māori aged 15 years and over, 14 percent were able to speak Māori in day-to-day conversation well or very well, and 13 percent fairly well.

In 2006, the total number of Māori speakers of all ethnicities was 157,113. Only 0.7 percent of non-Māori identified themselves as able to have an everyday conversation in Māori.

Proportion of Maori able to converse in te reo Maori, by census year.

Number of Maori and total population able to converse in te reo Maori, by census year.

Children attending Māori language immersion schools (indicator 15.2)

An important part of retaining culture and language is through transmission to the next generation. More children receiving education in the Māori language increases the chance of language skills and cultural knowledge being retained. The 2001 Survey of the Health of the Māori Language found that adults with greater speaking proficiency were more likely to have been exposed to Māori language during childhood.

This indicator measures the number of students attending kura kaupapa Māori and kura teina. Kura kaupapa are schools where Māori language, culture, and values predominate. Kura teina are schools in the process of being established as kura kaupapa Māori.

Between 1992 and 2008, the number of kura kaupapa and kura teina increased from 13 to 72. Between 1997 and 2008, the number of students increased by 55 percent, from 3,926 to 6,104 (see figure 15c).

Kōhanga reo are centres for children aged from 0–6 years. Literally translated as ‘language nests’, their guiding principle is total immersion in Māori language and culture. The number of children in kōhanga reo increased from 10,108 in 1990 to a high of 14,514 in 1993. Since then, the number of children has decreased to 9,165 in 2008.

Number of students at kura kaupapa Maori, 1997–2008.

Number of historic places (indicator 15.3)

Retaining cultural capital requires passing cultural resources on to future generations. New Zealand’s heritage provides a link to past generations and supports the understanding of cultural origins.

The indicator measures the number of registered historic places. Registration contributes to the protection of historic places and gives them a higher level of recognition.

Figure 15d shows that between 2006 and 2008 the total number of New Zealand’s historic places increased from 11,633 to 11,867.

Between January 2005 and December 2006, a total of 40 heritage places were destroyed, relocated, or partly removed. Between January 2007 and December 2008, nine consents to demolish or relocate a listed heritage place were issued by local authorities, and two sites were demolished.

Registered historic places, 2005–06 and 2007–08.

Local content on New Zealand television (indicator 15.4)

Culture is shared, enriched, and passed on through different media. Television is an important medium in New Zealand for information to be transmitted, ways of life to be portrayed, and the cultures of specific groups to be expressed.

This indicator measures the amount of local content on television during prime-time hours, thus reflecting the extent to which New Zealand culture is represented.

Figure 15e shows that between 1988 and 2008, the proportion of local content on prime-time television increased from 23.5 percent to 42.1 percent. The decrease in 2005 was due to Prime Television, which had a low level of local content, being added to the coverage.

Proportion of local content on prime-time television, 1988–2008.

About the indicators

Data overview

Experience of discrimination can be a measure of whether New Zealand is an inclusive society in which people are able to express their identities and culture. There is currently no data available that measures this. However, information on people’s experiences of discrimination, ability to express their identity, and attitudes towards diversity will be available from the General Social Survey, to be published in October 2009.

Speakers of te reo Māori (indicator 15.1)

The data for the number of Māori speakers is sourced from the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings, conducted by Statistics NZ. The census asks people to list the languages in which they can have a conversation about everyday things. The data does not measure fluency because this is subject to variations in people’s assessment of their own ability. Figure 15a shows the proportion of people who identify themselves as being of Māori ethnicity who are able to have an everyday conversation in te reo Māori. Figure 15b includes the number of Māori language speakers in the total population.

The 2006 Survey on the Health of the Māori Language, also conducted by Statistics NZ, provides a measure of language proficiency. The categories are defined as:

  • very well (I can talk about almost anything in Māori)
  • well (I can talk about many things in Māori)
  • fairly well (I can talk about some things in Māori).

Children attending Māori language immersion schools (indicator 15.2)

The indicator measures all children, whether Māori or non-Māori, attending kura kaupapa Māori. A kura kaupapa is a state school where teaching is in the Māori language. Also included are kura teina, schools that are in the process of becoming a kura kaupapa Māori.

Data is from the Ministry of Education.

Number of historic places (indicator 15.3)

The indicator measures the number of places either registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, listed in district plans as places with heritage value, or recognised by the Department of Conservation as actively managed historic sites. Historic places include built heritage (buildings, structures, and monuments), sites and areas, and wāhi tapu (places sacred to Māori). Archaeological sites recorded by the New Zealand Archaeological Association are not included.

The total figures are estimates only. There are some missing entries in the New Zealand Historic Places Trust’s database, Rārangi Taonga: the Register of Historic Places, Historic Areas, Wāhi Tapu, and Wāhi Tapu Areas. Some duplication is also unavoidable as the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and local authorities may recognise the same place in a different manner. There is also often a time lag between a site being demolished and being removed from the database.

Local content on New Zealand television (indicator 15.4)

Prime-time television is programming between 6pm–midnight, seven days a week. This indicator includes prime-time screened programmes on the six major nationwide free-to-air channels: TV One, TV2, TV3, C4, Prime, and Māori Television. New Zealand content is classified as material which is both predominantly made in New Zealand and which reflects New Zealand identity and culture. Thus, programmes which are made in New Zealand but which have no New Zealand content are not counted.

Data is sourced from New Zealand on Air, and is for December years.

Table 15.2
Culture and identity indicators – defining principles

Culture and identity indicators - defining principles.

See part C for the complete list of defining principles for all indicators.

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