He aha te kai a te rangatira? He kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero.
What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge. It is communication.

What does a rangatira look like? What qualities are needed to lead Ngāi Tahu in the 21st century?
Kaituhi Mark Revington reports.

One of the architects of the Ngāi Tahu Settlement recently created a stir when he suggested it was time for senior Māori leaders to stand aside and allow younger generations to come through in leadership roles.

Tā Tipene O’Regan made the suggestion at the Parliament Buildings launch of the Manu Ao Academy’s Fire that Kindles Hearts: 10 Māori Scholars, a book which profiles 10 respected Māori academics in terms of their leadership roles.

Tā Tipene’s keynote speech focused on some of the key aspects of Māori leadership and its evolving requirements. He argued that his generation was involved in a ferment of discussion and debate about the role of the Treaty and the nature of the Māori-Crown relationship arising from decades of protest. He said that, while the debate was not particularly well-informed and the media was generally lazy, the public – especially Māori – was open to becoming informed. Those who were spearheading Te Kerēme and later negotiating the Ngāi Tahu Settlement were voices for a tribe, he says.

“There was a level of debate and communication with our own mandating constituencies which is not taking place today.” He says that the leadership at that time was interacting with a more actively interested and involved Māori political base. However that leadership went to great pains to inform the public conversation particularly the membership of the tribes and communities which were active in the process.

What is needed in a changing world? Leaders who can adapt to that change, he says. Leaders with wide-ranging interests who are capable of developing a sophisticated understanding of where Māori culture and identity belong in the 21st century.

The need for re-shaping the older discussion and blending in the new and emerging circumstances still confronts Te Ao Māori – as, historically, it always has. Tā Tipene says that Māori political and cultural cohesion needs to be actively led by well-informed strategic leadership.

Where once Ngāi Tahu challenged only the Crown, now the challenges are wide ranging and global. The Crown is still there, says Tā Tipene, but now other challenges loom.

“The meteorological climate is only one challenge. The socio-techno climate is also changing. The IT revolution and the wider societal questions and issues will all have an impact. More importantly, our whole nation’s demography – New Zealand’s whole cultural mix – will change radically by the half century. We have to shape our course very strategically to place Ngāi Tahu in that emerging world.”

Tā Tipene says that needs a refreshed leadership model and a lot of fresh thinking but, above all, it needs a leadership that can be fully engaged with the people so that the iwi is part of the conversation shaping the Māori future.

When Sacha McMeeking spoke at Lincoln University about Māori leadership, two points particularly resonated. Māori leaders in the 21st century had to be connected both technologically and with people, she said, and they would often face global challenges, not challenges unique to Māoridom.

Sacha (Ngāi Tahu) is the former general manager of Strategy and Influence at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, now in a new role as Head of School of Aotahi: Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury. She is also a former Fulbright Fellow who went to the United States to develop tradition and values-based commercial decision-making tools for Māori.

Tā Tipene’s generation landed the Ngāi Tahu Settlement, and then it was the job of the next generation to manage that settlement, she says. Now the tribe is wealthy and is rebuilding its culture. It is important that the tribe continues to hold conversations around leadership and succession, she says.

However, leadership roles in an iwi are not necessarily about who sits at the top of the table or who is elected as a rūnanga representative.

“If someone sat down and mapped leadership roles in the iwi, there would be thousands of different roles. There are so many spaces where we need leadership. It is probably not well enough recognised that there is so much space for leaders of all kinds.”

In the book Future Challenges for Māori, Selwyn Katene argues that a good leader is one trusted by his or her people, someone with a sense of purpose and a vision, someone above all who can motivate people. He talks about the caring leader, willing to listen to others and willing to work in the service of others.

He believes traditional and contemporary Māori leadership has been characterised by leaders who shared a vision, a sense of mission, and an agreed course of action.

The challenges facing Māori are those faced across the globe in some form, he says. Climate change, overpopulation, a mobile population, and shortages in oil, water, and food, are all factors. Conversely, Māori will have greater economic power and growing political influence.

Modern leadership cannot anticipate directions, he says. “Organisations today need everyone strategising and thinking about new directions to pursue. In the absence of a crystal ball, no one person can lead from the front. Future leadership depends on complex knowledge and innovation being pursued by all.”

He believes future leaders will epitomise two types. “Future takers who accept the future for what it is, feeling powerless to change what will be, and allowing today’s realities to obscure tomorrow’s potential, ready to respond to change; and future makers who shape the future by reading the signs, determined to create future spaces for people to excel, undaunted by today’s problems, and ready to lead change.”

How do you prepare an organisation for change? How do you prepare possible leaders to cope with change? Eruera Prendergast-Tarena (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui) who is kaihautū/chief executive of Te Tapuae o Rehua, spent four months overseas working with Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian communities and their organisations to answer these questions: What are the features of current indigenous organisations, and how are they influenced by indigenous cultural values?

Now he is Dr Eruera Prendergast-Tarena. His PhD research was on indigenous organisations and their quest to balance economic development and cultural priorities. How does this tap into leadership? Eruera looked at three case studies – Ngāi Tahu, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian – and found that successive generations had different world views, intensified by cultural revival.

All three had undergone similar changes, although in different time frames. They started as minorities, focused on building wealth, and once that was achieved, looked to a cultural revival. Rebuilding their economic base increased political power.

But all three made similar assumptions about expectations, something pertinent to Ngāi Tahu, where 32 per cent of tribal members are under 15.

“The organisations have assumed younger generations have the same expectations of the organisation. They do not. How younger generations define their culture and success for the organisation is changing, and changing at a faster rate. Younger generations show greater frustration at the slow pace of change, and disillusionment at the lack of cultural shift. Although change is occurring and will continue to do so, change is not happening quickly enough for many.”

Each organisation falsely assumed that definitions of culture and success were consistent across generations, a view not shared by younger generations. In turn, that meant consistency and complacency were the greatest risks for an intergenerational organisation, Eruera says.

“To survive long-term each organisation needed to develop an intergenerational mindset. An intergenerational investment strategy is fixed and consistent over time. An intergenerational mindset needs to have the minimal amount of contentment and consistency possible. It needs to be adaptable and be able to transform itself continuously to ensure it always remains relevant to its people and its surroundings.

“Our world is changing fast. The pace of change will only increase in the future. To survive indigenous organisations need to be able to shed their skin regularly and transform themselves. They need a mindset that will enable each generation to define their culture and aspirations in new ways that meet their needs.”

As Selwyn Katene says, modern Māori leaders owe much to those who have gone before. Traditional leaders were often male and firstborn. With the arrival of Europeans, rangatira who could cope with great change were needed.

More recently, as tribes had their claims settled, leaders like Tā Tipene appeared, who were relentless in pursuit of the best deal for their tribe. During the period of wealth consolidation, leaders needed to manage competing expectations.

The need for networks is not new. No leader should work in isolation, but the modern world requires a complex set of relationships and expertise. A modern leader needs to work across cultures, while staying firmly planted in his or her culture.

“Māori have the added challenge of negotiating the dynamically interacting influences of traditional Māori values and leadership principles, and those of mainstream contemporary society,” says Selwyn Katene.

Roots in culture and a confidence in identity are fundamental, says Tā Tipene. And an understanding of te reo is an advantage. “Many people can make powerful contributions without te reo, but everyone is enhanced who has it.”

And then there is the often vexed question of succession. The challenge of succession is common to most organisations, says Tā Tipene. “The thing we need in a Māori frame is some way in which we bring on the young, and actively encourage their development.”

Tā Tipene also believes the idea of an upper house or wider group of kaumātua or former rūnanga representatives would benefit Ngāi Tahu.

“We are no longer an oppressed minority. We are largely autonomous, geographically unchallenged, and we have capacity. We can go into battle on all sorts of fronts knowing we need not run out of muskets. How do we want Aotearoa New Zealand to be? How do we as Ngāi Tahu contribute to that process?”