Racism In New Zealand Essay

New Zealand is known to many as a country with wonderful landscapes, a beautiful and mysterious culture and sheep, lots of sheep however it wasn’t always that way. In fact the lands of New Zealand were covered in native birds, some flightless such as the Kiwi and others that sing beautiful songs such as the Kereru many say until the colonization of this land by the British. Britain’s colonization of New Zealand had devastating impacts on the culture and environment of the indigenous people (Maori) and the development of the nation due to the British’s own assumption that they knew best how to manage the resources they had colonized however they consequently endangered the Maori’s culture, environment and the development of the country after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on the 6th February 1840.

New Zealand was a land that not many knew of or intended to colonize for many years. It was by accident that it was founded and then once founded no one wanted to colonize the land, largely due to the fact that many were fighting over the colonization of Australia at the same time. Captain Cook had one goal at the time and that was to come out with the win of Australia as their next colony. When the French landed in Akaroa, New Zealand things began to change. The British knew that while it would be extremely expensive to try and gain access to two different colonies at the same time it would be more important to them than to allow the French to take over the land of New Zealand as they would have grounds to be able to try and take over parts of Australia so they decided that they would try t colonize both at the same time. The first arranged meetings with the Maori occurred in 1769 and 1770. [1]

It was 70 years after the first meetings were held between the British and the Maori that the British finally got what they wanted all along – a piece of paper signed by some Maori that didn’t actually understand English and thought that they were getting more out of what they were giving. A win for the British. The Treaty of Waitangi was a huge stepping stone for both nations and to begin with both nations were happy with what they had chosen to do, initially the Maori were enticed to the signing through the advanced tools that the British would bring over with them which allowed them to make advancements to their way of life – a small change that signifies the start of the changing of their culture from a small way of life to becoming big city people. Once they had completed the signing however they noticed changes in the treatment that they received. The second article of the Treaty of Waitangi claims “guaranteed protection for Maori lands however the New Zealand Government has the right to buy the lands.” The Maoris believed through their own culture that they owned every bit of land in New Zealand; every hill was known to
have a name while every weed was also just important to them. The mountains were also incredibly sacred to them with many of the Maori Myths and legends that are taught in schools today being about the mountains. [2]

Article Soon after signing, Maori’s Opinion

This is really the first time that we see the troubles of a language barrier, which would change the Maori culture entirely. Over the 175 years it has been since the Treaty of Waitangi has been signed the Maori language and number of native speakers has been depleting. The lack of understanding for the Maori culture and the mentality to do what is best for them caused the British to implement changes among the Maori such as making them learn the English language. While they may not have necessarily forced them to learn the English language they didn’t make any effort to become accustomed to the Maori culture or make any attempts to blend into the society they were trying to take over. The British also showed their lack of understanding to the Maori Culture when they forced the Maoris into smaller areas of land and taking large amounts of sacred farmland and changing it to suit them and their way of life. [3] [4]

Another change that occurred over time was the depletion in the number of Kiwi’s throughout the nation. The main depletion occurred soon after the British had come to New Zealand and allowed rabbits onto the island. When they noticed the damage that the rabbits were causing they decided to bring over stoats to try and kill off the ever expanding rabbit population. However this was not very successful as they began to kill the kiwi instead of the rabbits. The cultural issue of this was not prominent at the time however and only became more of an issue around the 1950’s when it was found that many were becoming endangered and they were a hard species to help reproduce. In the 1890’s the British also became a problem for the kiwi when they found out that the kiwi skin had worth back home and they wanted to make quick money however this didn’t last long as the kiwi were hard to hunt for humans due to their ability to hide from eye sight and in respect to the Maoris. [5]

Rabbit Pest in New Zealand

Spain noticed that the information that the British had given out didn’t add up to the information that was on record and heard complaints from the Maoris about the loss of their land this causes the Maoris to go to “The New Zealand Company” through the encouragement of the Spanish and get the purchases of their land re-looked at. The result was not successful for the Maoris as the company found that their claim to all the land was “impossibly large”.

The British asked a lot of the Maoris, even if it was spoken through their actions rather than through their words. They remained oblivious to the culture of the Maoris and never tried to make an effort to allow them to continue to practice the ways of their culture. Soon enough for the British there was less need to worry about the Maoris since they were largely a minority group of New Zealand. A large effect of this was the massive decrease in the age of death for the Maori since the colonization of New Zealand. It is thought that the items that caused the decrease in life expectancy were items such as weapons and alcohol, which the British used to bribe the Maoris into agreeing to do certain things like allow British onto certain areas of land. Another large cultural change that the Maoris were forced to make was to allow much of their land to be used to farming. While the Maoris found it hard to give up the land the British ended up starting the biggest industry in New Zealand and have very much shaped the culture of New Zealand to these days. [5]

As you are able to see in the featured image that is provided in this essay, while the process took many years eventually the British were able to control the majority of the land throughout the nation. The British turned the majority of this land into farm land. While I could not find an exact number I found that today “54.8 percent of the nation is farm land” so we are able to tell that at this time around 70-75% of the nation would have been farmland.

In conclusion, aspects of Britain’s colonization of New Zealand were very important for the nation to be able to move forward and become a nation that was able to create ties through import and export industries. However much of what has changed in New Zealand over the 175 years it has been since the signing of the treaty are consequences from this mindset. The loss of Maori language and changes to the wildlife are significant changes that are widely spoken about in New Zealand and much of the ignorance of the British is to blame with them attempting to make the Maori conform to what they wanted in one of their colonies.


[1] Thomas, Nicholas; Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire: 2010; Page 130

[2] O’Malley, Vincent and Stirling, Bruce and Penetito, Wally. The Treaty of Waitangi Companion Maori and Pakeha from Tasman to today: 2011; Page 73

[3] Reedy, Tamati. Te Reo Maori: The Past 20 years and looking forward. Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 39, No.1 (Jun., 2000), pp. 157-169

[4] http://www.dailyplanet.org.uk/category/anti-racism/

[5] Victoria Univeristy, New Zealand; Introduced Birds and Mammals in New Zealand and their effect on the environment; Tuatara: Volume 27, Issue 2, December 1984; http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Bio27Tuat02-t1-body-d1.html

[6] O’Malley, Vincent and Stirling, Bruce and Penetito, Wally. The Treaty of Waitangi Companion Maori and Pakeha from Tasman to today; 2011; Page 85


Secondary Sources

Adams, Peter. Fatal Necessity : British Intervention in New Zealand 1830 – 1847. 1997

Buick, Thomas Lindsay. The Treaty of Waitangi, or how New Zealand became a British Colony. 1840; 1914

Hudson, Paul. English Emigration to New Zealand, 1839-1850 : Information Diffusion and Marketing a New World. The Economic History Review, vol. 54, No. 4 (Nov., 2001), pp. 680-698

O’Malley, Vincent and Stirling, Bruce and Penetito, Wally. The Treaty of Waitangi Companion Maori and Pakeha from Tasman to today. 2011.

Reedy, Tamati. Te Reo Maori: The Past 20 years and looking forward. Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 39, No.1 (Jun., 2000), pp. 157-169

Thomas, Nicholas, Islanders: The Pacific in the age of Empire, 2010

Victoria Univeristy, New Zealand; Introduced Birds and Mammals in New Zealand and their effect on the environment; Tuatara: Volume 27, Issue 2, December 1984; http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Bio27Tuat02-t1-body-d1.html

Primary Sources

The Times (London, England), The War in New Zealand, Wednesday, Nov 14, 1860; pg. 6; Issue 23777. (5682 words)

The Times (London, England), The Rabbit Pest in New Zealand, Tuesday, May 22, 1888; pg. 3; Issue 32392. (275 words)


section 2 (9:10-10)

Link to ePress publication:

Revell, E. Papoutsaki, E. & Kolesova, E. (2014). Race, racism and everyday communication in New Zealand. In G. Dodson, & E. Papoutsaki (Eds.), Communication issues in Aotearoa New Zealand: a collection of research essays (38-51). Auckland, New Zealand: Epress Unitec. ISBN 9781927214152. [NOTE: to access individual papers, click on Author - title entries in the table of contents]. Retrieved from http://www.unitec.ac.nz/epress

Permanent link to Research Bank record:


This essay is based on theories of ‘new racism’, which explain how race and racism continue to play an integral role in our lives, but in subtle and often hidden ways. This approach informs the discussion in this essay that focuses on some of the issues that emerged from a critical collaborative autoethnographic project that explored how race is manifested in everyday communication interactions in New Zealand. The discussion, more specifically, draws on what we call here ‘conversational tact’ and its three sub-themes of ‘everyday racialised ethnic terms’, ‘the everyday racialised use of ethnic stereotypes’, and ‘everyday censorship and silence around race in conversation’. These themes have been chosen as the focus of this essay because they sit together under a larger theme that looks at the way in which people communicate race through their everyday patterns of speech and vocabulary in New Zealand and help us unmask ‘racial micro aggressions’ (DeAngelis, 2009; Sue et al, 2007).

new racism, stereotypes, censorship, interpersonal communication, vocabulary, autoethnography, race, ethnic groups

ANZSRC Field of Research:
160803 Race and Ethnic Relations, 200105 Organisational, Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication

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Unitec ePress

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Communication Issues in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Collection of Research Essays, Edited by Giles Dodson & Evangelia Papoutsaki, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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