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Challenges for Aboriginal Cultures

As far as indigenous peoples in the English-speaking world are concerned, there are many parallels to be observed. As you may remember from last year, if we compare Aborigine and Native American experiences, we see that they have, for all their specificities, suffered as a result of European settlement. The Maori - the aboriginal people of New Zealand - is no exception.

Indigenous Experience

In the past, there were violent conflicts that sometimes developed into genocide. In addition, the native population suffered loss of land, discrimination and epidemic diseases. Education of the native population in the culture of the rulers was often used as a weapon to diminsh the value of the aboriginal culture. The wounds were so deep that these populations still struggle. As already mentioned, Native Americans face challenges such as poverty, violence and substance abuse on a larger scale than the rest of the population, and the Aborigine and Maori populations experience similar predicaments.

However, certain positive trends can be observed. The governments of Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand have all issued official apologies for past transgressions. They have put in place measures in order to compensate for past torts, including, in some cases, giving back land, and to preserve or revitalize native cultures and languages.


Maori Warrior and All Blacks Rugby Team
Maori Warrior and All Blacks Rugby Team

The Maoris of New Zealand are perhaps the indigenous people who have survived the European settlement best. Relations between them and the first European settlers were mostly amicable and the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 recognised the Maori people's ownership of land and property and gave them equal rights as British subjects. However, conflicts did arise and the Maori population was decimated by disease. In the 20th century the population started to recover and today Maoris are active in all spheres of New Zealand society, though as with the Native Americans and Australian Aborigines a significant proportion of the population have economic and social problems. The film [i]Once Were Warriors[/i] from 1994, based on a bestselling novel by Alan Duff, gives an excellent portrayal of the problems that may be experienced by Maoris today. Also the novel and film Whale Rider (2002) deals with clashes between modern society and traditional culture. However, Maori culture has had a strong revival in the last century and their traditions have become a more integrated part of New Zealand society.

The Haka

New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks, have performed a haka before each of their matches since 1905. Hakas are chanted Maori poems accompanied by expressive movements, which, among other functions (greetings, commemoration, etc.), were used in order to challenge and intimidate enemies before battle. Today, the haka is an object of pride in New Zealand – shared well beyond the Maori community. Who ever said that real men don't dance? Watch these clips!


How would you describe the haka? Do you think it is a suitable way for the All Blacks to start a rugby match? Why/why not?


Search for more information about Maori culture and make a multimedia presentation. Include information about the situation for Maori culture in New Zealand today.

Film Review

The two films Whale Rider and Once Were Warriors illustrate some of the problems of Maoris in modern society. Watch one of the films and write a film review. Present your review either orally or in writing. How to Write a Film Review

Whale Rider

In Whale Rider (2002), we follow a young girl, Paikea, in her struggle for acceptance. She lives with her grandparents, her father having settled abroad in order to pursue his artistic career abroad after Paikea’s mother and her twin brother died the night she was born. Her grandfather is the head of a Maori tribe, and even though he loves her in his own harsh way, he is also obsessed by being followed in his function by a male descendant, as tradition demands, and he openly regrets that she is not a boy. However, Paikea does not have it in her to restrain herself to the typical role of a girl in a society that is governed by patriarchal customs. As a result, tension builds and heartache ensues.

Innhold mangler.

On one level, this movie says a lot about personal issues like strained relationships and love, but it also asks interesting questions about themes like tradition and modernity, duty and compromise, community and individual worth. In this respect, it represents a relevant contribution to central debates concerning the contact between different cultures.

Once Were Warriors

You will find information about the film and a link to the film trailer at [i]Once Were Warriors[/i].


  1. After reading the paragraphs about the indigenous experience and the Maori people/and/or watching the films, discuss why dominant cultures generally want to suppress minor cultures and adopt assimilation policies.
  2. After having watched the film/films, browse through the reviews that can be found at the Internet Movie Database: [i]Whale Rider[/i] Film Review, [i]Once Were Warriors[/i] Film Review. It is possible to apply different filters, like “Loved it”, “Hated it” and “Best".
    • Select two reviews – one that you agree with, and one that you think is in the wrong, and compare them. Which aspects do their authors disagree on? Is it possible to “agree to disagree”, or are there real issues that are worthy of debate?
    • Share your findings and discuss your conclusions with other students.


Compare and contrast the films Dances With Wolves, Once Were Warriors/Whale Rider and Avatar regarding cultural values and culture clashes. You may find this link useful Avatar - Unique Box Office Success and a link to a film trailer is provided here Dances with Wolves