Let’s make New Zealander count

If Paul Henry’s implication that the Governor General didn’t look like a New Zealander was abhorrent, what do we think of the official view that only Maori or Pakeha/European New Zealanders are Kiwis?

An online survey I completed recently asked respondents to indicate their ethnicity. The options were:

New Zealand Maori, New Zealand Euorpean, Other European (including Australian), Cook Island Maori, Samoan, Fijian, Other Pacific Island, Chinese, Indian, Other Asian, Niuean, Tongan, Other ethnic group.

This notion that you’re only a New Zealander if you’re of Maori or European descent is common in surveys and official forms. Some don’t even consider Maori as New Zealanders. Anyone who put New Zealander as their ethnic group on a census was counted as European until 2006.

Before the last census was carried out it was announced that one of the options for ethnicity would be New Zealander and there it was  -right at the end after European, Maori, Asian, Other including MELLA (Middle Eastern, Latin American and African – Other (including New Zealander).

The notes on the census data explain:

New Zealander was introduced as a new response for the 2006 Census . . . for 2001 and previous Censuses “New Zealander” was counted with the “European” category.

That was the official view – only those of European descent could be New Zealanders. The new category is an improvement on that, but only just – New Zealander comes last.

So what is ethnicity? The  2006 census definition is:

‘Ethnicity’ is the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to. Ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation, as opposed to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship. Ethnicity is self-perceived and people can belong to more than one ethnic group.

As opposed to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship .” That’s pretty clear, so why is New Zealander, not the first option?

My cultural affiliation has nothing at all to do with my race – that’s just a genetic lottery which gives me blondish hair, fair skin and blue eyes. It does have a lot to do with my nationality but it’s much more than that. It’s not how I look and only partly where I was born. It’s much more about what makes me who I am and how I feel.

If the census wanted race then I’d answer European. But it’s not asking for race, it wants the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to and my first answer for that is New Zealander.  If pushed to be more specific I might add of Scottish descent but I’d never answer European.

Preparations are underway for next year’s census – which is going to give us the option of an on-line response –  but the government statistician has decided there will be no change to the ethnicity question:

A review of the official ethnicity statistical standard was initiated by Statistics NZ in 2008, after ‘New Zealander’ responses in the last census rose to 11.1 percent, from 2.4 percent in 2001. The scope of the review was wider than census but was used in conjunction with the census cognitive testing and research programme in decision-making for the 2011 Census. For more information about the research completed by the review and what this involved, see the Final Report of a Review of the Official Ethnicity Statistical Standard 2009.

In the review, most key users of census data stated that the format of the census ethnicity question should remain unchanged. They emphasised the importance of consistency in statistics across the Official Statistics System and the comparability of the ethnicity measure over time. These views reflect concerns that even a minor change in a questionnaire’s format can have unintended but significant impacts on responses and subsequent statistical outputs.
Some submissions to the review expressed a desire for greater visibility for ‘New Zealander’ responses. As with outputs from the 2006 Census, this will be done by having ‘New Zealander’ as a separate category (under ‘Other’) in several of the 2011 Census outputs. For an example of how ‘New Zealander’ responses in the 2006 Census were output, see QuickStats About a Place on the Statistics NZ website.

Statistics NZ will not be adding a ‘national identity’ question or related measure to the 2011 Census. Results from cognitive and other question testing for the 2011 Census indicates that the inclusion of a national identity question as a filter to the ethnicity question would have no notable effect on respondents’ approach to the latter, and would add little value in terms of producing output data that is fit-for-use.

I understand the need for consistency of categories so that people who use the stats collected can make comparisons, follow trends and make plans. But there is no point in consistency if it’s based on the false assumption that race dictates ethnicity, especially when the official explanation says:

An ethnic group is made up of people who have some or all of the following characteristics:

  • a common proper name 
  • one or more elements of common culture which need not be specified, but may include religion, customs, or language
  • unique community of interests, feelings, and actions
  •  a shared sense of common origins or ancestry 
  • a common geographic origin.

I doubt if European covers any of those.

Being a New Zealanders means those of us of many different races share elements of common culture, unique communities of interest, feelings and actions and a common geographic origin. Some of us will also have a shared sense of common origins or ancestry and proper name. All those things we share depend on where and how we live now not where our ancestors happened to come from. It’s not about how we look but how we feel.

The race-based bias to options for ethnicity, contradicts the the explanations of what it is. Problems because of that will only get worse as our country becomes more multi-cultural and those born here identify more with New Zealand than the countries and cultures of their parents, grand parents or great-grandparents.

How would you feel if you think you’re a New Zealander but official forms keep telling you you’re not?

It’s too late to change the options for next year’s census but we can encourage people to opt for New Zealander and campaign to ensure that New Zealander becomes the first choice on forms in the future.

The United States might not be a model for race relations but they have got one thing right – they may be a variety of Americans (Native, Afro, Jewish, Irish . . . ) but they are Americans. Australia also counts people as Australians while also acknowledging there may be different categories within that broad classification.

We are and should be counted as New Zealanders. If  counting what we have in common doesn’t work for the statiticians and planners, let them then filter for differences and determine if we’re Maori, Pakeha/European, Pacific, Asian . . .  New Zealanders but let New Zealander count.

11 Responses to Let’s make New Zealander count

  1. pdm says:

    European does not fit for me:

    My ancestry on my fathers side is Scottish.
    My ancestry on my mothers side back to great grand parents, both paternal and maternal is New Zealand born and bred.

    I am 64.

    I often tick Other and write in New Zealander on those sorts of surveys.


  2. Fredinthegrass says:

    European as I read it is white,caucasian, with little to do with Europe as we know it today. It is a typical brainless census term that, for consistency, will probably remain for our life time pdm.
    I am 68.

    On fathers side I’m unashamedly Scottish with a minor dilution of English.
    On mothers side an uncle, with the help of Somerset House – the geneological gurus – traced us back through England to King Fornjort (sp) of what is now known as Finland. I believe he was Norwegian or whatever they were called in 570 AD!

    As I dont like filling in forms I just conform.


  3. My kids are sixth generation NZ on three sides and their paternal grandmother is English. I tick other and NZer too being 5th generation NZ on/from all four grandparents. If my great grandmother had married a Chinese goldminer I still would put NZer because there isn’t the option of NZ Chinese? If they want race, okay, European. If they want skin colour, okay, white. If they want ancestry, ok, mainly celtic. If they want ethnicity – go New Zealand!


  4. poneke says:

    The reason for counting as “European” those who put “New Zealander” as their ethnicity was that many Pakeha (especially those who utterly loathe the term “Pakeha” and believe it actually means “white flea”) wanted to be known as “New Zealanders” as their little bigoted form of protest.

    Ironically, for most of the 1800s, the indigenous people of New Zealand were called “New Zealanders” by the European settlers.


  5. homepaddock says:

    I don’t have any problem with being called a Pakeha. It might have started as an unflattering even insulting description but now it’s taken to mean New Zealanders of European descent.

    However, it excludes a great many of our people. What’s so difficult about an ethnic label which applies to all of us?


  6. poneke says:

    Because “New Zealander” isn’t an ethnic label, it is a nationality. As is “American” or “Australian” or any other nationality you care to mention.

    Even in a country as homogenous as Japan, there are still minority ethnic groups, so even “Japanese” is a nationality rather than an ethnic group.

    “Pakeha” is indeed an term denoting ethnicity, as is “Maori” but the nationality of such people is “New Zealander.” If you get my point.


  7. homepaddock says:

    Can New Zealander not be both nationality and ethnicity?

    If not what ethnicity are New Zealanders who are neither Maori nor Pakeha and is there no ethnic group which encompasses Maori, Pakeha and others?

    The Australians allow: The use of self-perception results in the need to include a number of categories in
    the classification that equate to national cultural identities. In particular, the
    self-perceived group identification approach allows the response ‘Australian’ and
    thus allows for the category ‘Australian’ in the classification. It also allows the
    meaningful classification of many other nationally oriented responses in statistical
    and administrative collections that would otherwise be unusable. A number of users
    indicated that the usefulness of the classification would be impaired if it did not
    allow for the concept of an ‘Australian’ ethnicity.


  8. Richard says:

    Ele, You are correct in that: “My cultural affiliation has nothing at all to do with my race”. Cultural affiliation or ethnicity is a sub-set of “Nationality” as I think Poneke is pointing out in his second post.

    Of course, we could sort out biological ethnicity quite quickly if we all provided a DNA sample. This would be very useful for statisticians.


  9. poneke says:

    Can New Zealander not be both nationality and ethnicity?

    Only if everyone in New Zealand had the same ethnicity, which we do not.

    It does work in some countries that have many ethnic groups — for example, virtually everyone in India regards themselves as Indian even though there are a fair number of distinct ethnicities there… the people of South India for instance are ethnically very different to the people of North India. So while most Indians would say they are ethnically Indian, some would also say they are ethnically Tamil (one of the major ethnic groups in South India), and so on.

    Any New Zealander can say they are a New Zealander and that is our nationality. Ethnically we are too diverse for “New Zealander” to be our ethnicity in any meaningful statistical sense.

    As I was trying to highlight before, when British settlers started arriving around 1800, they called the people who lived here “New Zealanders.” The settlers saw themselves as British and many still saw themselves that way until well past WWII.

    In more recent times, many New Zealanders of European descent and a certain political bent (think NZ First)have insisted on calling themselves a “New Zealander” as their ethnicity which has caused the census and other statistical issues to which you refer.

    Ethnically I am of European descent but I certainly do not regard myself as European in any sense of nationality. Handily and correctly I can claim to be ethnically a Pakeha and I am very pleased to do so. But my nationality, according to my passport, is New Zealander.

    One of the happiest things about New Zealand is the long history of intermarriage between people of all the ethnic groups here, which continues strongly to this day — including, it is a delight to see, with the children of arrivals from nations whose people our immigration policies in not-too-distant times refused entry to.

    In another 100 or maybe 200 years, everyone here will be of multiply mixed ethnicities — remember the song about turning out coffee coloured people by the score? And then, but only then, could “New Zealander” start to be able to be used correctly as a term for ethnicity as well as nationality.


  10. homepaddock says:

    The 2006 census gave Dutch as an example of ethnicity. If someone from Europe doesn’t have to claim to be of European ethnicity it’s a bit silly that those of us don’t come from there do.

    Europe covers a variety of ethnicities as diverse as Dutch, Greek, Spanish and Danish – none of them have nearly as much in common with my culture, language, customs, community of interest . . . as do the mixture of those elements which make us distinctly New Zealanders.

    It might have been appropriate a few decades ago when European really meant not Maori and most who weren’t Maori came from Britain. But time has broken the ties with Britain and immigration has mixed us up. Our country is more culturally diverse and our people different from those in the countries from whence we and our ancestors came.

    My niece born in NZ with a father born here, mother born in Australia and grandparents born in NZ, Scotland, England and Malaysia has spent most of her life in Australia and identifies as an Australian. Had her parents stayed here she’d identify as an ethnic NZer.

    The mixing is already happening, it’s time offical records caught up with the reality.


  11. adam2314 says:

    My children are 6th generation on mothers side.

    New Zealanders.

    I am English. ( Europe is over the Channel.).

    We are all Caucasian. Not European.


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