|The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the British Crown and Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand being represented at the signing by chiefs from various tribes. The Treaty promised to ensure legitimate control on European settlers, while guaranteeing Māori their sovereignty, undisturbed possession of natural and cultural resources, and citizenship. However, these commitments were reneged upon and were largely discarded over the next century, including devastating confiscations of land and other natural resources, undignified treatment of Māori culture and language, and the loss of indigenous sovereignty following large-scale European migration to Aotearoa/New Zealand in the late 19th century.
The New Zealand government maintained a ‘white’ New Zealand immigration policy until the late 1980s. An orientation towards white British in New Zealand was so deeply entrenched that the idea of monocultural assimilation remained the norm and went unchallenged until the 1960s. A reflection of this is in the fact that even today the Treaty of Waitangi is not formally recognised in the country’s immigration policies.
Since the 1990s, there has been a major upsurge in the number of Asian migrants arriving in Aotearoa/New Zealand, so that today people of Chinese, Indian, and similar origin constitute about 11% of the national total population.
However, settlement support programmes and academic research relating to them have focused on superficial coping and adaptation issues. Integration of these migrants has been frequently discussed but without specific cultural references. Māori culture and the Treaty have never been an integral part of the research scope in the study of acculturation of such migrants in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Government. Politicians, and academics have consequently isolated migrants from indigenous issues, because indigenous people were regarded as irrelevant in this field.
Nevertheless, some ethnic community groups and individuals have taken initiatives to learn about the Treaty in recent times. I interviewed 17 key informants and conducted six focus groups, with seven people on average participating in each session. Employing a free-association approach in these interviews enabled me to explore significant psychological changes after my informants had learned about the Treaty.
As a result, many of the participants went through a process of redefining their identity in a new country, rather than just adjusting to or coping with a different environment. Essentially, learning about the Treaty facilitated psychological integration after migrating to New Zealand.
The future implications of such findings, especially the significant effect of repositioning Māori culture and history in cross-cultural research in New Zealand, is also discussed in this thesis.