Brand Māori and my experience of biculturalism in NZ.

I recently told someone that I feel like I’m branding myself Māori in my workplace, not just within my immediate team, but organisation-wide. Which may seem obvious given I descend from Ngāti Kauwhata and Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and when I look in the mirror, Māori is definitely staring back at me.

But let me put this into context. My role in my workplace is Business Librarian. I am a subject specialist in business resources, who just happens to be Māori. My role, my job, is not a role that inherently requires any particular expertise in te reo Māori or tikanga Māori.

Yet I find myself taking on that responsibility. Not solely, but happily, willingly, because I do derive a strong feeling of satisfaction from these activities. This has not always been the case if you read my previous Indigenous Imposter post. Yes, I love the small wins and the feeling I am contributing to a better New Zealand, but I also put myself forward because there is a sense of expectation that being Māori qualifies me for the job.

And, if Māori don’t take on the role in an organisation, then who will?

Biculturalism is a term that tends to rise to social consciousness when Māori-related issues arise, like incorporating Māori kaupapa into a non-Māori environment, promoting a Māori event, or revisiting strategic direction in an organisation. There are better definitions, but for the purposes of this blog post, biculturalism is two cultures living in co-existence. At an individual level, it is being able to comfortably navigate within and between those two cultures. There are varying degrees to which a person accomplishes this, but many would say that in New Zealand, Māori are able to function within this duality by default, or out of necessity. Biculturalism is our norm.

While that may sound like an advantage, let me relate this story that illustrates how biculturalism has manifested for me or what straddling two cultures really feels like.

The story involves a New Zealand woman who relayed to me her negative experience on a marae visit. She unwittingly did something that was not permitted, (we have all done that – even me, especially me) and was reprimanded for it. It coloured her view of anything Māori and she never took part in Māori activities from that moment forward, especially marae-based activities.

Unlike this woman, when I am unhappy, upset, or offended by the actions of the mainstream culture, I do not have the luxury to disengage. I cannot decide I will no longer participate in mainstream activities, because I am surrounded and immersed in it. Just as equally, I do not have the luxury to disengage when I suffer recriminations at the hands of Māori.

While, these incidents do not occur on a day-to-day basis, this is not an isolated instance and whether I am conscious of it or not, my Brand Māori radar is always on the alert. For me, walking within these two worlds is less about being able to do so comfortably, and more about being able to manage a situation, and myself, where the two worlds are at odds.

Isn’t that what a partnership is though? When everything is great, life is a honeymoon, the best feeling in the world. But, it is the struggles, the disagreements, the times when the partnership is tested that the opportunity for real learning and real growth in the relationship occurs. Biculturalism is a wonderful aspiration, as a country, as an organisation, and as an individual if you are prepared to deal with the inevitable disappointments from the other party.

Ultimately, I dream of a New Zealand where I am not the Māori expert, where my non-Māori colleagues and friends are able to walk onto a marae with confidence, where my full name is pronounced without fear or hesitation. I dream of a New Zealand where I am not Brand Māori.


  1. Amber Nicholson

    Biculturalism is sometimes the problem though – two separate cultures trying to co-exist. Let each respective side worry about themselves. I wrote once about Ambiculturalism within business – the integration of Western practices into Maori business whilst still retaining the mana and tikanga of Maoritanga: “Aggregate the assets but leave the mana where it lies”. This I think is what we need to move towards. Maori are forced to operate in this environment anyways – as you say – you cannot just disengage. In this day and age, it is only the “privileged” that can choose not to participate in our Aotearoa melting pot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anahera Morehu

    He mihi tenei ki a koe i to whakaaro rangatira nei

    Ae e tika ana tena nga whakaaro. I remember when I took a photo of 5 indigenous librarians straddling the border between Canada and USA. I put the tag, walking in two worlds while straddling two countries. It reflected to me the essence of your korero.

    I also like the korero from Amber, and would like to see a time when Maori practices are integrated in Western businesses, maybe that is a good ambiculturalism korero too!

    Liked by 2 people

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