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Official policy recognizing, fostering, or encouraging biculturalism typically emerges in countries that have emerged from a history of national or ethnic conflict in which neither side has gained complete victory. This condition usually arises from colonial settlement. Resulting conflicts may take place either between the colonisers and indigenous peoples (as in Fiji) and/or between rival groups of colonisers (as in, for example, South Africa). A deliberate policy of biculturalism influences the structures and decisions of governments to ensure that they allocate political and economic power and influence equitably between people and/or groups identified with each side of the cultural divide.
Examples include the conflicts between Anglophone and Francophone Canadians, between Anglophone White South Africans and Boers, and between Tangata whenua (i.e. Māori) and Tangata tiriti New Zealanders—i.e. settlers and their descendants whose right to be in New Zealand derives from the Tiriti (Treaty) of Waitangi. The latter group is sometimes referred to generally as "non-Māori"; their ancestors trace to the Pacific (known as Pasifika); Asia (people from eastern Asia, including from Mongolia, China, Japan, Indo-China and the Philippines are usually referred to as Asians; those from the rest of Asia normally are associated with their country or region of origin within Asia); North and South America; Europe (often called Pākehā), and Africa. The term biculturalism was originally adopted in Canada, most notably by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1963–1969), which recommended that Canada become officially bilingual.
Because the term biculturalism suggests, more or less explicitly, that only two cultures merit formal recognition, advocates of multiculturalism (for which biculturalism formed a precedent) may regard bicultural outlooks as inadequately progressive by comparison. This was the case in Canada where Ukrainian Canadians activists such as Jaroslav Rudnyckyj, Paul Yuzyk and other "third force"[further explanation needed] successfully pressured the Canadian government to adopt multiculturalism as official policy in 1971.
In the context of relations between the cultures of deafness and non-deafness, people find the word "biculturalism" less controversial because the distinction between spoken language and sign language commonly seems like a genuine binary distinction—transcending the distinctions between various spoken languages.
In the context of the United States of America, bicultural distinctions have traditionally existed between the US and Mexico, and between the White and the African-American population of the US.
Countries which formally recognize biculturalism include:
- Belgium, divided basically between speakers of French and of Dutch
- Vanuatu, formerly a condominium with both French and British politico-administrative traditions
- the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, retrospectively termed "The Commonwealth of Both Peoples"
- Switzerland, overwhelmingly German and French in language (though with recognition of Italian and Romansch)
- Paraguay, with a population 90% of which speaks Guaraní and 99% of which speaks Spanish
- New Zealand, where the Treaty of Waitangi forms the basis of a relationship between the Crown and Māori iwi (tribes) through which te reo Māori is recognised as an official language, and Māori have protected representation in Parliament through the Māori electorates
Biculturalism can also refer to individuals (see bicultural identity).