I have a confession to make – I don’t really support the idea of biculturalism at Carey. My issues with biculturalism relate to the historical and contemporary uses of the word and the focus on just two cultures inherent in the term. For Christians, the notion of potentially prioritising any two cultures over others seems anathema alongside the fundamental tenet of our faith that the gospel of Christ is for all peoples. 

But do we really mean to privilege just two cultures in our biculturalism at Carey?

The term “bicultural” generally refers to people who operate within two cultures, but “biculturalism” has come to refer to two cultural groups working out how to co-operate effectively within the same nation. Māori and Pākehā are commonly seen as those two cultures in Aotearoa, but Te Tiriti o Waitanga on which our biculturalism is predicated is between iwi Māori and the British Crown. The Crown is not a culture, nor does it represent only one culture. It can however be argued that it is the government of New Zealand; a government who from the time of the Treaty controlled entry into this country and therefore determined who Māori must share this country with. Māori claim that all people other than tangata whenua (the people of the land) are tangata tiriti (the people of the Treaty), having a legitimate claim to be here because of the Treaty.  

The term “tangata whenua” represents all iwi Māori, while “tangata tiriti” represents all the diverse peoples that have come to Aotearoa over the last 200+ years. Tangata tiriti covers those whose European ancestors came many generations ago and our newest migrants from all over the world. It is all embracing – all inclusive. This then, is nothing like a “biculturalism” that refers to the coming together of just two cultures. This is the coming together in partnership of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti.

What then do we mean at Carey when we speak of biculturalism? We have no definition of it per se but we can say that we are on a bicultural journey and indeed “journeying” has become our preferred way to refer to what is happening at Carey. Journeying together is good but I contend that our bicultural terminology is limiting our approach to this journey by its association with government on the one hand and a Māori/Pākehā binary on the other. We are not the government, so we don’t need to frame our journey together around a political notion of biculturalism, but I am also not advocating that we write off the Treaty as a mere political document with no relevance to us. Indeed Carey is a college with an emphasis on applying our theology to our context in Aotearoa New Zealand, so we have an opportunity not afforded the non-Christian world to look to God and His word as we seek to understand how to approach the Treaty and to allow our knowledge of His character to guide our actions, to interrogate our motives, to critique our cultures. We are free to work out for ourselves before God what we call this and why we do what we do. Within this context I advocate never using the term “biculturalism” again. While we work out the details before God and in relationship with each other as tangata whenua and tangata tiriti, let’s just refer to it as our “treaty journey”—or better still, by a Māori word for journey, “hikoi”.

Sandy Kerr

Kaiārahi-Rangahau Māori