Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Who Are 'We'? Implicit Associations between Ethnic and National Symbols for Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Who Are 'We'? Implicit Associations between Ethnic and National Symbols for Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand

Article excerpt

Research examining how New Zealanders perceive their nation and its peoples remains scarce. The current study examined one specific aspect of such cognitions--that of the degree to which self-identified members of the Indigenous population (Maori) and New Zealanders of European descent (Pakeha) automatically perceive their own and each other's language and peoples as belonging to the nation. We used reaction-time measures (the Implicit Association Test) administered to university undergraduate samples. Majority group members (Pakeha) showed minimal implicit ingroup biases, and perceived their own ingroup and culture, and Maori peoples and culture, as equally representative of the nation. Minority group members (Maori), in contrast, perceived their ingroup and culture as being more closely associated with representations of the nation. The answer to the question of who 'we' are then, is contingent upon ethnic group membership. These findings differ dramatically from theory and research from the United States, which predict that minority groups--especially minority groups such as Maori that are consistently disadvantaged according to national indicators of income and general wellbeing--should display outgroup biases at the implicit level. In New Zealand, it seems that Maori culture helps to promote the positive distinctiveness of the nation on the world stage, and as our results suggest, Maori may therefore have considerable symbolic power to validate national identity for many majority group (Pakeha) New Zealanders.

"The era of the ethnically homogenous nation is over. Claim and counterclaim, articulation and debate are now part of the personal/ political landscape of New Zealand. It is now more important than ever to describe who 'we' are and how we are to live our lives." (Liu, McCreanor, Mclntosh, & Teaiwa, 2005a, p. 11).


New Zealand (NZ) is relatively unique on the world stage. This is due in part to a political system that formally recognizes Maori (the Indigenous peoples of NZ) and non--Maori New Zealanders as distinct partners who share guardianship of many of NZ's resources and ideally should contribute equally to its national identity and culture. The recognition of Maori as distinct partners arises from NZ's unique historical and cultural context--a context that includes conflict between early European settlers and Maori, historical injustices experienced by Maori during both colonial and post-colonial periods of NZ's history (see Liu, Wilson, McClure & Higgins, 1999), and the more recent recognition of contemporary claims for reparation based upon the Treaty of Waitangi.

Recent research suggests that these conditions have contributed to the development of a contemporary NZ society in which Maori culture is seen the creation and definition of nationhood (Liu, 2005). Nevertheless, despite support for the symbolic contribution of Maori culture to New Zealand society (Sibley & Liu, 2004), there remain harsh disparities between Maori and Pakeha on most indicators of social and economic well-being. Maori, for example, form only 16% of the total population, but 50% of the prison population; Maori earn 16% less income, and their life expectancy is 8 years lower than other New Zealanders (The Social Report, 2005). As a consequence of these negative statistics, Maori are faced with a plethora of negative stereotypes in NZ society. And yet, prior research suggests that Maori and Pakeha are perceived by the majority group to have very similar strengths of implicit and explicit association with symbolic markers of national identity (Sibley & Liu, 2007).

There is a small but growing body of social science studies examining the construction of Maori identity, Pakeha identity, and New Zealand national identity (see Awatere, 1978; Borell, 2005; Campbell, 2004; Durie, 2003; Houkamau, 2006; McIntosh, 2005; Spoonley, MacPherson, & Pearson, 1984, 1996; Rata, Liu, & Hanke, in press; Vaughan, 1978; Walker, 1989, 1990; for important examples). …

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