Most Maori are connected to their culture, with Maori television programmes playing a crucial role, according to a new report.

Statistics New Zealand released its Te Kupenga survey today, which measured Maori well-being in social, cultural and economic terms.

It found 70 per cent of Maori aged over 15 said it was important for them to be involved in Maori culture, with three quarters of the survey's 5000 respondents ranking television as their main cultural activity.

It also found that 10 per cent of Maori believed it was not important at all to be involved in Maori culture.


Victoria University head of Maori Studies, Associate Professor Rawinia Higgins said television probably featured so prominently for recipients was because of its accessibility.

It was easier to gain a sense of culture by turning on the television than to go to a local marae or speak with iwi elders, she said.

Broadcasting also played a "pivotal role'' in helping increase te reo knowledge, Prof Higgins said.

But she acknowledged the survey's findings that there was still a lag with the number of Maori able to speak the language, with 45 per cent knowing no more than a few words and phrases, despite a Government push over the past 20 years encouraging use of the language.

"Broadcasting ... is not designed to force you to speak - we don't have dialogues with our television,'' she said.

The language was being spoken mostly to pre-schoolers in early childhood centres and lessened as people grew older - with very little being spoken in home.

"We're a far way off from saying the language is healthy.''

Just over 10 per cent of Maori could speak the language very well or well, the survey found.

Te Kupenga project manager Atawhai Tibble hoped the data would be picked up by researchers who would look at the rate of te reo speakers and how they were learning the language.

"This information will contribute to a better informed public debate on Maori well-being and identify key areas that need to be addressed.''

The survey, which was the first of its kind, found the majority (83 per cent) of Maori believed their whanau was doing well.

It also showed that 89 per cent of respondents knew their iwi.

The survey picked up a difference between spirituality and religion, with 66 per cent of Maori stating spirituality was important in their lives, compared with 45 per cent who felt the same about religion.

Mr Tibble said the term "well-being'' was subjective and the whole of the data needed to be examined to determine what each person believed the term meant.

It was not necessarily connected with the wealth of a person, he said.

"But what we plan to look at is smaller groups of the ones who said they weren't doing well - we'll have a look at what their incomes are and other things like that so we can get a better sense of what it means when people say they are not doing well.

"This is the first time [Statistics has] ever used a measure like this and we're quite excited about its potential,'' Mr Tibble said.

By the numbers:

* 70 per cent felt involvement in Maori culture was important;
* 34 per cent visited their ancestral marae in the last year;
* 55 per cent able to speak some te reo;
* 84 per cent saw whanau not living with them in the last month; and
* 66 per cent felt spirituality was important.