Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu CEO steps down

Jan 31, 2024

After almost 12 years serving her iwi as CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Arihia Bennett (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi) will step down in March.

Arihia Bennett

Arihia first took on the job in August 2012, her third stint working for her iwi over the past three decades.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere (Chair) Justin Tipa has acknowledged Arihia for the exceptional leadership she has demonstrated over her many years of service to Ngāi Tahu.

“Arihia has been instrumental in the continued growth and development of our organisation – not only in an economic sense but most importantly our cultural and social outcomes.

“Her attention to weaving strong cross sector relationships has been underpinned by a focus on wealth and health outcomes. Her huge contribution to Ngāi Tahu Holdings and the Board of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, whilst leading an organisation of kaimahi and engaging with whānau, has been unwavering.”

As CEO, Arihia has had to navigate a range of challenges during her tenure.

“These have included the Canterbury earthquake recovery, the terrorist attacks, and COVID-19, all of which Arihia navigated with wisdom, empathy and smart decision-making that ensured our whānau wellbeing needs were looked after.”

Justin Tipa says Arihia can be proud of her mahi to help build and maintain a strong, economic, cultural, and social base for Ngāi Tahu whānau.

“This year Te Rūnanga will celebrate a milestone investment of $1 billion into tribal development since Settlement. The impact of this funding and programmes will stretch intergenerationally and I acknowledge the role Arihia has played in ensuring this funding is well directed.”

“Her strategic and future-focused leadership has enabled many innovative opportunities to come to fruition. As she leaves, her direction is well embedded in Mō Kā Uri - Ngāi Tahu 2050, our collective tribal vision. Her relentless drive and focus on whānau rangatiratanga will be an enduring mantra for our longest serving CEO.”

Ngāi Tahu kaumātua, Tā Tipene O’Regan has worked with Arihia since the early 1990s when she and her husband Richard managed Ō Tāpara Lodge in Piopiotahi on behalf of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board for a number of years. During this time Arihia also served on the NZ Māori Tourism Board. 

Tā Tipene says Arihia leaves Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu well positioned to continue pursuing the fulfilment of Settlement promises.

“Arihia has performed extraordinarily well as CEO and has presided over a very challenging phase in our evolution. In my view, she has undertaken this tough task with skill and a large measure of grace.”

Following her time in Piopiotahi, Arihia was Chair of the Ngāi Tahu Development Corporation until its devolution in 2006. In 2011 she was invited back by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu to join He Oranga Pounamu as a Board member and then Chief Executive for a short time ahead of her current appointment.

Justin Tipa says Arihia has represented the iwi in many forums, and in her own right as a leader.

“Arihia is highly respected in government and business circles, not only in Aotearoa, but globally too. No doubt some of her biggest international highlights were an opportunity to meet personally with President Barack Obama and on another occasion host a session with former US Secretary of State, Condaleezza Rice at Stanford University.”

Arihia grew up in a multi-generational household. Her father taught Te Reo Māori and her mother was immersed in Tamariki Ora Well Child services and the Tuahiwi Māori Women’s Welfare League.

Justin Tipa says it is this whakapapa and her whānau that have shaped her into the leader she is today.

“Arihia’s connection to the iwi is more than just an employment position, it is purposeful and bound in whakapapa through her late mother Pani and their whānau at Tuahiwi. Her whakapapa combined with a long career as a social worker have strongly influenced her focus on whānau outcomes.”

Before she steps down in March, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu will work closely with Arihia to hand over the role to a yet to be appointed interim CEO ahead of recruiting for the permanent position later in the year.