New Zealanders and the Census

I agree with the Dom Post Editorial:

Statistics New Zealand has a problem. It is trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes.

The square pegs are the people who identified themselves as New Zealanders in the 2006 . The round holes are the ethnic categories into which it wants New Zealanders to divide themselves.

Three years ago 400,000 people ignored the categories set out in the census form and wrote New Zealander in the “other” category. By using other sources of information, Statistics NZ has been able to build up a picture of those who refused to tick its boxes. It says more than 90 per cent were of European origin and they tended to be male, slightly older, better off and better educated than the general population.

However, the government statistician warns, in a discussion document issued this week, that if the number who ignore its official classifications continues to grow, the data collected in future ethnicity surveys will be rendered unusable. Good.

I don’t go so far as to say that is good (as I am a major user of said statistics) but I think that many in society are saying they do not regard themselves as purely European. And in fact over time many New Zealanders will have a mixture of European, Asian, Maori and Pacific ancestry. As a country we inter-marry between ethnicities far more than others.

I know people who have British and Maori ancestry. They don’t identify as either European or Maori.

According to Statistics NZ, the data is vital for the development of public policy. It is used to address social and economic inequality associated with membership of particular ethnic groups. Perhaps policy makers could try just addressing disadvantage.

Statistics NZ also suggests those who define themselves as New Zealanders are confusing ethnic and national identity. They are not. It is Statistics NZ that is confused.

According to the government statistician, an ethnic group is one which shares some or all of the following characteristics: a common proper name; elements of common culture such as religion, customs or language; a unique community of interests, feelings and actions; a shared sense of common origins or ancestry; and a common geographic origin.

The reason growing numbers of people are choosing to identify themselves as New Zealanders is because that is what they are, not just in a legal sense, but in a cultural sense.

I think a reasonable case can be made that “New Zealander” is a new emerging ethnicity – not just a nationality.

They are a group whose members have a common proper name, New Zealanders; share a common language, a version of English in which Maori terms and phrases are becoming increasingly common; share common values and interests; and share common origins and ancestry. The majority were born in this country, as were the parents and grandparents of many. There is nowhere else that they call home and no other group of people with whom they identify more closely.

Many Maori words have become “mainstreamed” as part of NZ English.

If what Statistics NZ really wants to know is the racial composition of those who identify as New Zealanders, that is what it should ask for although it might not like the response.

And that may be the way forward. Ask one question on ethnicity and another on racial composition.

But if it is genuinely interested in the ethnic makeup of New Zealand, it should open its eyes. A unique national identity is taking shape. It is one that incorporates elements of Maori, European, Pacific and now Asian culture. Home for its members is not on the other side of the globe. It is here. The language that is spoken is not the Queen’s English or Samoan or Cantonese, it is New Zild. And the values held by its members are not the values of London or Apia or Hong Kong, but of the Hutt Valley, South Auckland, Southland and Wellington.

That is something to celebrate, not to fret about.

Not all New Zealanders would see their ethnicity as New Zealand. Many Maori identify primarly as Maori. First generation Asian immigrants indetify as Asian. The second and third generations far less so, I would say.

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