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Regional Comparison

The Big Cities Project


Cultural Identity:

Cultural Identity

Desired Outcomes

New Zealanders share a strong national identity, have a sense of belonging and value cultural diversity. Everybody is able to pass their cultural traditions on to future generations. Māori culture is valued and protected.


Culture refers to the customs, practices, languages, values and world views that define social groups such as those based on nationality, ethnicity, region or common interests. Cultural identity is important for people’s sense of self and how they relate to others. A strong cultural identity can contribute to people’s overall wellbeing.

Cultural identity based on ethnicity is not necessarily exclusive. People may identify themselves as New Zealanders in some circumstances and as part of a particular culture (eg Māori, Chinese or Scottish) in other circumstances. They may also identify with more than one culture.

The desired outcomes recognise it is important for people to feel a sense of national identity and also to be able to belong to particular social or ethnic groups. They recognise New Zealand is a multicultural society, while also acknowledging that Māori culture has a unique place. Under the Treaty of Waitangi, the Crown has an obligation to protect the Māori language.

Defining a national identity is not simple. New Zealand is a diverse nation, made up of many cultural groups, with many different customs and traditions. While people may describe themselves as "New Zealanders", how they define their "New Zealand-ness" will vary from person to person. For example, some people might see a New Zealand identity in aspects of New Zealand history or in New Zealand achievements in sporting, artistic or other endeavours, while others might see it through a sense of national characteristics or traits, or through national symbols and icons. Māori culture may form one aspect of national identity, since it is both unique to New Zealand and a part of our identity in the outside world.

Cultural identity is an important contributor to people’s wellbeing. Identifying with a particular culture makes people feel they belong and gives them a sense of security. It also provides access to social networks, which provide support and shared values and aspirations. Social networks can help to break down barriers and build a sense of trust between people – a phenomenon sometimes referred to as social capital. However, excessively strong cultural identity can also contribute to barriers between groups. An established cultural identity has also been linked with positive outcomes in areas such as health and education.71

Conversely, members of minority cultures can feel excluded from society if the majority of those in authority obstruct, or are intolerant of, their cultural practices. This happened to the Māori language and culture through much of New Zealand's history.

Culture can also play a part in promoting social wellbeing in other ways. A strong national culture or identity, and strength in creative endeavours, can be a source of economic strength and higher material standards of living.


Three indicators are used in this report. They are local content programming on New Zealand television, people identifying as Māori who can speak in Māori, and the retention of their first language (other than English and Māori) by identified ethnic groups.

While these indicators cannot provide an exhaustive picture of New Zealand's cultural identity, they do provide snapshots of the health of particular aspects of it. There is a strong focus on the health of Māori culture.

The first indicator, the amount of New Zealand content programming on television, provides one way of measuring the strength of New Zealanders’ sense of national identity.

The second indicator measures the current health of the Māori language. Language is a central component of culture and a necessary skill for full participation in Māori society.

The final indicator, the proportion of people who can speak a first language (other than English and Māori) of their ethnic group, is an indicator of the degree to which people are able to retain their culture and traditions and to pass them on to subsequent generations.