What do the coming decades look like for Ngāi Tahu?
Kaituhi Mark Revington reports.
A heads of agreement was signed with the Crown in 1996 and in 1998 the settlement was passed into law by Parliament and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu came into being. Although the economic loss to Ngāi Tahu was estimated at around $20 billion over seven generations, the Crown’s offer of $170 million was accepted. At the time, not everyone believed that the offer would be “sufficient to re-establish the tribe’s economic base”. But in less than two decades, the tribe has grown that pūtea into net assets of just over $1 billion.
Ngāi Tahu is a relatively young tribe with 32.37 per cent of its 54,819 members under 15. That is much higher than the 20.4 per cent of New Zealanders who are under 15. The tribe’s median age is 25, according to Statistics New Zealand Tatauranga Aotearoa. Of those 54,000 plus members, 51 per cent live outside the takiwā.
So what will the world be like in 2050? It may seem like a lifetime away but if you are a parent, your children will be adults then, perhaps with children of their own. What kind of world do you want for your mokopuna?
Kaiwhakahaere Mark Solomon says the tribe has built a strong economic base and gained some political clout while it continues to build a cultural base.
“The reality is that all the areas identified in the 2025 strategy are important but we should strengthen them. Take education. We’ve done a hell of a lot although we can’t quantify because it is all about outputs not outcomes, but I don’t believe we are doing enough in the compulsory sector.
“One of my dreams will always be that the tribe puts support mechanism behind children who are struggling. I would like to see Ngāi Tahu with the aim of having 90% of children come out of compulsory education with a qualification.”
Tā Mark remembers going to 19 hui around the country in 2000, asking Ngāi Tahu whānui where they saw the tribe in 2025. Te Reo Māori, culture and education were top priorities at every hui, he says.
In his Vincent Lingiari Memorial Address at Charles Darwin University earlier this year, Tā Tipene O’Regan talked about the challenges facing Ngāi Tahu. The tribe had kept its grievances alive through seven generations, and finally settled with the Crown, he said, but in some ways those generations of grievance linger on.
“We have deprived ourselves of the consolations of grievance, but how do we rid ourselves of its smell? Who is there now to blame?”
More importantly, he asked his audience, what did the future hold? “Until we have come to terms with the questions of what we want to be as a people, there is no horizon of purpose, no need for any strategic direction beyond making cash and distributing it more or less efficiently and more or less equitably. If that’s all the membership of an indigenous culture amounts to, then why bother?”
Papatipu rūnanga representatives were given a copy of Tā Tipene’s Vincent Lingiari Memorial speech to read while Ngāi Tahu 2025 is available on the Ngāi Tahu website. That document, the result of many hui and much consultation, says the vision is about tino rangatiratanga.
“It is about the ability to create and control our destiny. It is our tribal map that in the year 2025 will have carried us to the place where we are empowered as individuals, whānau, hapū, papatipu rūnanga and iwi to realise and achieve our dreams. Our whakapapa is our identity. It makes us unique and binds us through the plait of the generations – from the atua to the whenua of Te Waipounamu.”
“We’ve got some really good policy around how we make money and what we do with it when we’ve made it and we’re investing in some important and exciting areas. Things are pretty good but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. But at the moment there’s not much I would want to stop – it’s about growth.”
Tahu believes the tribe needs to focus on regional and local economic development but is not convinced that papatipu rūnanga are the right vehicles.
“I’m interested in entrepreneurial whānau. We are better off focusing on people who know what they are doing. A rūnanga just because it is there doesn’t necessarily lend itself to driving local or regional economic development. That said I think we need to find the mechanisms by which to invest in that economic development.”
He believes in using the economic success of Ngāi Tahu Holdings to in some way support Ngāi Tahu whānui initiatives. In tourism for example, “if we could have a suite of small Ngāi Tahu-branded tourism businesses that operated out of Banks Peninsula, Ōtākou, the West Coast, Fiordland… if we can do it in a way that the tribe provides a backbone for them, that’s great.”
Culturally Tahu believes the tribe is doing all it can. “It was really good for me the other day to be at the welcome for new staff and see who was standing up to represent. These are guys who were kids when I started on this thing 25 years ago and now they are the face. I don’t think we could make that pool any deeper because it is all about who wants to commit. There is no point in throwing resources at people who are bleating just for the hell of it. The litmus test for me is, of those who have really stepped up to the mark, were we there for them? And yes, we are.”
Deputy Kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai says the aspirations laid out in the 2025 strategy document are unlikely to change. “What will change is the activity we do that links back to those aspirations. It’s about really understanding the activity that will happen within each of those nine pillars.”
Should the Ngāi Tahu tribal council pay more attention to the commercial activities of Ngāi Tahu Holdings? At present, investment is strictly separated from delivery of service and Lisa believes the tribe is mature enough to hold discussions around that separation.
“One of the challenges is board members opening their minds to have discussions. The tribal council should operate at a strategic level which is not just about the social side of the ledger.”
Succession is another challenge, she says. “I have looked at a lot of indigenous peoples and they all do different things, but what I don’t want is a western model forced upon us. Te Rūnanga should accept that each papatipu rūnanga will do what they think they should do.”
Another priority for Lisa: engaging younger minds. She refers to an image used at a conference by Tā Tipene who said his 12-year-old granddaughter would be 48 in 2050.
“In 30 years my son Dane will be 45. What will the Ngāi Tahu nation look like in 2050? What would I like for him, what would he want? I want him to be fluent in his language, grounded in his identity. Heart and soul Ngāi Tahu, well educated, living in a strong Ngāi Tahu tribal economy. Are we as a tribe structurally fit for purpose now to enable our people to be all that they can be in 2050? Also being mindful that we have an enormous challenge of tribal members being widely geographically dispersed. I think we are on the right track but right now we are not fit for purpose.”
Chief executive Arihia Bennett wants to go further. In encouraging papatipu rūnanga representatives to think along a longer time frame, she has organised three wānanga to begin looking out to 2050.
“We’re at a point where we should be thinking beyond 2025,” she says. “We’ve been through the Claim, undertaken the settlement, and set a strategic pathway of looking at the nine outcomes of the 2025 strategy. It is time to review it and ask, ‘Is this the pathway we should continue on?’”