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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - New Zealand

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - New Zealand, 2007, available at: [accessed 1 December 2015]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


New Zealand (Aotearoa) has two main populated islands, the North Island and the South Island. It is relatively thinly populated, especially in the south island. Much of New Zealand is mountainous and of volcanic origin. The remote Chatham Islands have a distinct legislative status.


New Zealand was not settled until around the eleventh century when there was significant migration from eastern Polynesia. The Maori culture largely developed in isolation from other Polynesian cultures and European influences. By the start of the nineteenth century traders had sought to exploit New Zealand's natural resources and missionaries had begun to evangelize the tangata whenua (the people of the land). There was considerable settlement before New Zealand officially became part of the British Empire in 1840.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in February 1840 by the Lieutenant-General-Elect Captain William Hobson and many of the major Maori chiefs; this treaty acknowledged Maori ownership of the land. However, the treaty did not prevent unscrupulous practice by Europeans seeking to obtain more land, and consequent violence. Maori disillusionment and anger at subsequent white responses to the treaty have underlain all, and especially the more recent, attempts to gain greater self-determination and power. The increasing demand of white settlers (Pakeha) for land led to considerable conflict throughout much of the nineteenth century, especially in the North Island. Sporadic contact in the 1840s was followed by the New Zealand wars of the 1860s in the central and west coast areas of the North Island. Disease, violence and displacement greatly reduced the Maori population and by the 1890s their numbers had declined to about 40 per cent of the pre-contact population size.

During the nineteenth century New Zealand developed as a mining and increasingly agricultural economy, in which the sheep industry dominated. Despite the displacement of Maori the white population grew slowly. Maori men were granted the vote in 1867 and in the same year received four special seats in the House of Representatives. The Maori population began to grow again but at a slow rate. Depressions in the 1880s and 1930s slowed economic and population growth. Between 1945 and 1970 the annual rate of population growth increased significantly following a higher birth rate and considerable immigration.

Historically, after the Polynesians, most migration to New Zealand was from the United Kingdom but the sources of migration became more diverse in the years after the Second World War. Immigration reached a peak in the late 1950s, when more than half of all migrants were from the United Kingdom and most others were from northern Europe. From the 1960s onwards other Polynesian migrants became a significant migration stream, especially from the New Zealand territories of Niue, Tokelau and the Cook Islands, and from Samoa and Tonga. In the last two decades there have been significant migration flows from eastern Asia, in some part a response to perceptions of a brain drain from New Zealand to Australia since the two countries formed Closer Economic Relations (CER) and removed immigration restrictions between them.

The most serious health, housing, educational and welfare service problems are associated with non-English-speaking migrants from the Pacific, rather than migrants from Europe or Asia. Indo-Chinese refugee settlers have experienced problems, especially in access to employment; a small number have migrated onwards to Australia.

In 1993 a new nationalist party, New Zealand First, was founded, in part to oppose perceived high levels of migration from Asia. Under its charismatic leader, Winston Peters, a part Maori, it also challenged the Waitangi Tribunal (see below), but its overall electoral success was limited and it lost the Maori parliamentary seats it gained at the first attempt in 1996. The flow of Asian migrants declined somewhat at the start of the twenty-first century with changing immigration criteria, some anti-Asian political rhetoric and some adverse publicity in the People's Republic of China concerning crime rates in New Zealand.


Main languages: English, Maori

Main religions: Christianity (various)

According to the 2001 Census, the main minority groups include Maori 526,281 (14.7%) and Pacific Islanders 231,801 (6.5%). The majority of the New Zealand population is of European origin. Maori are Polynesians who settled in New Zealand from the eleventh century. Since the early 1960s there has been migration from the Pacific, especially Polynesia, to New Zealand, and more recently significant migration from Asia. Between 1991 and 2001 the proportion of those identifying as Asian grew from 3 per cent to 6.6 per cent, surpassing the population of Pacific Island descent (6.5%).


New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy, where there has been limited pressure for a republic. There is a single parliament, which has generally been dominated by two main parties: the Labour Party and the National Party. Because of the proportional representation system there are many minor parties and seven seats are reserved for Maori electors. Four of these are currently held by the Maori Party, which was founded in 2004 in response to the passing of the Foreshore and Seabed Act in November 2004, which effectively extinguished this native title, leading to extensive public protest.

Issues attendant on reconciliation between white settlers and the Maori community are examined by the Waitangi Tribunal, which was created by an Act of the New Zealand Parliament in 1975. The Tribunal allows the retrospective resolution of grievances. Its findings are not legally binding but the recommendations are generally respected by society.

Through the policy of biculturalism, and the practice of the Waitangi Tribunal, New Zealand governments have sought to enable Maori development. Maori tribes (iwi) have developed programmes for local development, but have often lacked the land and capital to implement them; much less attention has been given to the more intractable problems of urban Maori.

Obtaining redress from the government for the wrongful invasion and confiscation of land has been a slow and bitter process. Changing Maori political and cultural strategies have drawn attention away from difficulties experienced by other migrant groups, especially Pacific Islanders. Biculturalism has meant little to other minorities, mainly Asian groups, who have also sometimes been disadvantaged. In 2002 the government officially apologised to the Chinese community for historic grievances, especially the imposition of a poll tax that the first wave of Chinese migrants had endured at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century. Following reconciliation and consultation processes a NZ$5 million grant was provided for a Chinese Heritage Trust Fund.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Amnesty International
Tel: +64 4 499 3349

New Zealand Federation of Ethnic Councils
Tel: +64 9 528 8257


Federation of Maori Authorities
Tel: +64 4 474 1480

Maori Women's Welfare League
Tel: +64 4 351 3559

Sources and further reading


Belich, J., Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from 1880 to 2000, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2001.

Kawharu, H. (ed.), Waitangi: Contemporary Maori and Pakeha Perspectives on the Treaty, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2001.

Sinclair, K., A History of New Zealand, 2nd edn, London, Allen Lane, 1980.

Walker, R., Ka Whawhai Tonu Mataou: Struggle without End, Auckland, Penguin Books, 1990.

Wilson, M. and Yeatman, A. (eds), Justice and Identity: Antipodean Practices, Wellington, Allen and Unwin, 1995.


Maaka, R., 'The new tribe: conflicts and continuities in the social organization of urban Maori', Contemporary Pacific, vol. 6, no. 2, 1994, pp. 311-36.

MacDonald, R., The Maori of Aotearoa/New Zealand, London, MRG, 1990.

Mutu, M., 'Maori issues', Contemporary Pacific, vol. 17, no. 1, 2005, 209-15.

Waitangi Tribunal:

Pacific Islanders

Anae, M., L. Iuli and L. Burgoyne (eds), Polynesian Panthers, Auckland, Reed Publishing, 2006.

Spoonley, P., 'Polynesian immigrant workers in New Zealand', in C. Moore, J. Leckie and D. Munro (eds), Labour in the South Pacific, Townsville, James Cook University of North Queensland, 1990, pp. 155-60.

Statistics New Zealand, Pacific Progress: A Report on the Economic Status of Pacific Peoples in New Zealand, Wellington, 2002.

The Evolution of Contemporary Maori Protest:

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