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The Ministerial portfolio for Ethnic Affairs was created by government in December 1999.

The Office of Ethnic Affairs was launched in May 2001.

Ethnic groups may be identified on the basis of race, religion, language or traditional beliefs as well as national or geographic origins.

The term 'ethnic' (matawaka), in the context of the Office of Ethnic Affairs' mandate, relates to any segment of the population within New Zealand society sharing fundamental cultural values, customs, beliefs, languages, traditions and characteristics, that are different from those of wider society.