What Does It Mean To Be Kiwi?

What Does It Mean To Be Kiwi?

At New Frontiers festival this year, we dedicated a day to exploring New Zealand culture.

New Frontiers is a gathering of bright minds from around New Zealand and abroad to explore and co-create solutions for a just and sustainable society. The diverse crowd included entrepreneurs, investors, artists, technologists, farmers, iwi representatives, high-ranking government officials and big picture visionaries.

Culture day was spent discussing where we have come from, where we find ourselves and where we as a nation are headed in the future. As part of these explorations, we asked festival participants what it means to be Kiwi? Some were Kiwis themselves, others honorary Kiwis visiting from overseas. As we chatted with people, several themes emerged. 

Kiwis value integrity

We are a nation of people who pride ourselves on standing up for what we believe in. We were the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in national elections in 1893, we stood strong against Apartheid in South Africa, and we took a stance against nuclear weapons in the 1980’s, a decision that had severe foreign trade and economic repercussions in the following decades. For a number of years now, New Zealand has been among the top countries for low public perception of corruption, we are easy to get along with, and we’re ranked #1 by Forbes as the best country in the world to do business. 

Annie Collins, Filmmaker

Annie Collins, Filmmaker

I have learned to listen to the resonance around us, rather than trying to play the game by the rules you think you should be playing by.
— Mark Prain, Hillary Institute of International Leadership

In all of these cases, we have acted with integrity not because it was the easy course of action, but because it was the right thing to do. Because we look after people. Because we are kaitiaki - guardians and stewards who look after the land, people and place. Many of us have a deep sense of connection to our land. This extends beyond the picturesque postcards and sweeping vistas from Lord of the Rings, to the pockets of humble Kiwi bush dotted across farmland and the one-third of New Zealand’s land mass that has some form of protection for conservation values. 

I think that the word mate is a good place to start. I think we’re all mates here, good mates looking after each other, caring for each other.
— Simon Bowden, Executive Director, Arts Foundation
What it means to be Kiwi is to be on the newest place in the world. It means to be at the edge of the map. It means to be the place of the possible.
— Celia Wade-Brown, Mayor, Wellington City
Being Kiwi is everything, because it actually is who I am, and to an extent I feel an obligation that I’m carrying through the stories of the various generations that have come before me.
— Nick Gerritsen, Crispstart
Nick Gerritsen, Crispstart

Nick Gerritsen, Crispstart

It’s not just we love the environment, it’s much much deeper; it’s about peoples relationship to the land, and to the sea, and each other.
— Peter Chrisp, CEO, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise
There does not exist a country on this planet that I know of, that has taken its responsibility to honour its first peoples so seriously.
— Joshua Fouts, Executive Director, Bioneers

A New Post-Colonial Era

A common thread underpinning several of the talks at New Zealand culture day was the suggestion that we have now entered a new post-colonial phase. We are arms open to the world, we are growing up and entering adulthood as a nation. Auckland is now richer in ethnic diversity than London, and we are more multi-cultural than ever. We are also global citizens ourselves - New Zealand has the 2nd largest diaspora in world after Ireland, with almost 25% of Kiwis living overseas.

What does this mean for us as a people? How can we create partnerships and embrace a post-colonial future, while still honouring and learning from our history in a way that is respectful and authentic? 

I think most Kiwis would agree that anyone who really considers themselves a Kiwi is “in”. And it’s not about where you were born, or where your parents were born, or what you look like, it’s about, Are you in this community?
— Alanna Krause, Enspiral; Loomio
Andrew Carpenter, Grow Wellington

Andrew Carpenter, Grow Wellington

You go to an IT startup in New Zealand, it’s like the United Nations, it’s very multicultural.
— Peter Chrisp, CEO, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise
New Zealand is less at the edge of the world, and more at the vanguard.
— Joshua Fouts, Executive Director, Bioneers
Simon Bowden, Executive Director, Arts Foundation

Simon Bowden, Executive Director, Arts Foundation

People who say kia ora when they greet you, respective of whether they are Māori or not. There’s something Kiwi about that.
— Anake Goodall, Chairman, Ākina Foundation; former-CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu
I love the fact that we’re small and that we can have a new idea here, test it out, prove a concept and then potentially take it to the world.
— Simon Bowden, Executive Director, Arts Foundation
We should have a policy now, which encourages the best we can possibly attract to this country, to be a part of contributing to what reimagining Aotearoa might be. To me that is really the nexus of New Zealand really coming into it’s own - combination of giving appropriate and real value to our core treaty partners, to working here on the enormous richness of the indigenous knowledge that is in this place, marrying that with the wonderful polyglot of people who have come here over generations as well.
— Mark Prain, Hillary Institute of International Leadership

Building Upon Our Identity

One of the participants at New Frontiers highlighted the common confusion between brand and identity - brand being what we market ourselves as, identity being who we are authentically. New Zealand has an opportunity to move beyond our brand of being just a beautiful country to visit, and tell the story of our true identity as a nation of humble, resourceful innovators who get stuck in. This open attitude places New Zealand well to collectively embrace a fast-changing world, and collaborate with new partners.

Our ‘brand new country’ is still developing.
— Simon Bowden, Executive Director, Arts Foundation
Sian Simpson, Kiwi Landing Pad

Sian Simpson, Kiwi Landing Pad

I’m completely in love with Kiwi culture. I’m infatuated with Kiwi culture. I’ve been here seventy two hours and I’m already trying to make plans to change my life and become a Kiwi.
— Joshua Fouts, Executive Director, Bioneers
Here we’re a small population, but we punch above our weight. And what would happen if we joined with more unusual partners who are actually quite similar?
— Sam Johnson, Founder, Student Volunteer Army
Joshua Fouts, Executive Director, Bioneers (left) and Sam Johnson, Connector & Founder, Student Volunteer Army

Joshua Fouts, Executive Director, Bioneers (left) and Sam Johnson, Connector & Founder, Student Volunteer Army

I think different cultures from around the world give us perspective. Sometimes it’s important to look backwards, or to look into the past and the historical mistakes of other civilisations, to understand what we have now, and where we’re going.
— Chris Bailey, Sculptor
I see New Zealand being slated to be a leader in the eco-technology space and at the same time I see it being a haven for masterful artists to be launching their platforms and not only offering their art, but creating sustainable business with art.
— Ariel White, Founder, evoLover
Chris Bailey, Sculptor

Chris Bailey, Sculptor

I’m really interested in the ongoing stories of treaty partnership and if it’s a genuine partnership I’m really interested in how the Māori block as it regains it’s mojo, it’s identity, its own institutions, its own voice, it’s on confidence, its own resources, how it chooses to deploy those resources to provide the leadership from that side of the treaty partnership.
— Anake Goodall, Chairman, Ākina Foundation; former-CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu
I think the fantastic opportunity for us is to start to become far more connected around the entrepreneurial journey so that people can experiment and understand their ideas at a far earlier stage with a truly global audience.
— John Holt, Managing Director, Kiwi Landing Pad
Rather than being a petri dish for commercial products, how about we become an incubator nation for progressive action, and we invite the best global citizens we can find to come and be a part of that journey with us. How exciting would that be?
— Mark Prain, Hillary Institute of International Leadership
Matiu Te Huki, Musician

Matiu Te Huki, Musician

I really have felt completely welcomed and accepted and embraced since I’ve been here.
— Jess Johnson, Musician

Navigating The Future

A useful road map analogy for the future was provided by Peter Chrisp, CEO of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and advisory board member to the New Zealand Story Group. Peter explained the significance of our country’s most iconic emblem, the silver fern.

Once upon a time in New Zealand, when Māori were walking through the bush at night, they would snap over sliver fern fronds along their way. On their way home, the light of the moon would reflect on the silver undersides, showing the way home. In this sense, the silver fern was a compass, a way finder, a path that would lead the way.

As New Zealand enters our post-colonial phase, let’s be confident, embrace new partnerships, watch for the cultural markers we have left along the way, and follow the fern. It knows the way. 

Welcome to the country of open spaces, open hearts and open minds. Together, we can do amazing things.
— The New Zealand Story
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