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Cultural Traditional and Human Rights: the Aotearoa New Zealand Experience
October 30,2014   By:CSHRS

Karen JOHANSEN

New Zealand

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga maunga, e nga awaawa, e nga pataka o nga taonga tuku iho, tena koutou katoa, [ Translation : to all expert colleagues, all voices, the mountains, the rivers, the treasure houses, greetings to you all.]

Introduction

"Culture represents the soul, the moral edifice, the self-definition and self esteem of a person or a community without which life loses context and meaning"  -Stamatopoulos, 2004

Culture and its expression is the primary source of identity, the source of self definition and sense of group belonging. As cultures interact and mingle, cultural identities change. This is a process which can be enriching and disorienting. It is universally agreed that every human being has the right to culture, including the right to enjoy and develop cultural life and identity. Equally, the State has an obligation to nurture and protect the cultural lives and identities of its people, in all of its diversity.

I was born in New Zealand at the end of the Second World War and I was three years old when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed. I am the eldest daughter of a Māori mother and a European father of Norwegian descent. I grew up in the region called Tairawhiti – the place where the sun first rises. I am proud of my father's origins but it is my mother's gift of 17 generations of known tangata whenua whakapapa [the genealogy of my indigenous family] which gives me my identity and my cultural dilemma and which profoundly influences my world view.

I am Māori, an educator and a New Zealand Human Rights Commissioner. It is in this context that this paper considers Maori cultural tradition in Aotearoa New Zealand today and the critical role of domestic and international human rights principles and values in its revitalisation and protection.

As my colleague, Commissioner Jeremy Pope noted in his address to this forum in 2010,New Zealand society today is the product of a series of migrations – first from Polynesia, then from Europe and currently, from Asia. As history testifies, when diverse peoples come together, differences in cultural values and expression have rarely been resolved without conflict.  All too often, the minority cultures have been alienated, dislocated and marginalised.
This is true of my own country and of Māori, the indigenous people. This is also true of the Chinese who came to New Zealand in the late 19th century and who were particular victims of the "White New Zealand "policy developed by the British settlers .

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