Time to steer the waka together

By Lisa Tumahai, Kaiwhakahaere (Chair), Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Iwi leaders from throughout Aotearoa are meeting in Dunedin for the first time this week, hosted by Ngāi Tahu. The National Iwi Chairs’ Forum meets quarterly to share knowledge, work together on key issues affecting our people and to advocate our collective priorities – all while recognising the rangatiratanga (independence) of each iwi. A whakataukī (proverb) that underpins the forum is: “He waka kōtuia kāhore e tukutukua ngā mimira – A canoe that is interlaced will not become separated at the bow. In unity there is strength.”

Today, largely at the behest of central government, iwi organisations are often relegated to a representative role in dealings with the Crown. This is despite the principle of partnership that is clearly outlined in the Treaty of Waitangi. This week’s forum will consider ways to truly give effect to the agreements that iwi and the Crown committed to in 1840.

Topics being discussed at our hui range from economic priorities through to social priorities. One key focus will be the partnership between iwi and the Crown. We plan on developing a Treaty Partnership Framework to discuss with the Crown. Another key focus will be freshwater management and ownership. This will be our first formal discussion with the Crown since its announcement of the Kāhui Māori Wai group in August.

In the 20 years since settling our Treaty of Waitangi claims, Ngāi Tahu have made massive progress in growing our capability and ability to support our people. Our yearly distribution allows us to offer education and training grants, boost whānau savings, strengthen our rūnanga, support our older generations and help those who are unwell.

Even as our asset base continues to grow, we remain conscious of the fact that money is not enough to address the negative outcomes caused by the dispossession of our lands and resources, which stripped us of the ability to care for our own. Turning that around requires real commitment and partnership between central and local government, and iwi. We need to work together to break a cycle that sees Māori continue to be disproportionately represented in almost every negative national social statistic.

I am uplifted by the passion and commitment for change from our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. At Waitangi this year the Prime Minister accepted that the government did not have all the answers for addressing the many shortcomings for Māori, stating: “We will ask you to help us. We will form partnerships together because we cannot do it alone.”

Partnership is the key. It is a key principle espoused by the Treaty of Waitangi, and yet every Treaty settlement that has been negotiated since 1840 has acknowledged the Crown’s failure to act accordingly. Ngāi Tahu has worked incredibly hard to resume our rightful role as kaitiaki across our rohe, and while we have witnessed progress in some areas, there is undoubtedly a long way to go to build an enduring Treaty partnership.

As Māori, as iwi, as Ngāi Tahu, we will always be part of the landscape of Aotearoa – we aren’t going anywhere. Like all iwi, our history with this land has spanned many generations. For many years we were cast to the margins of the lands that we once had complete domain over, yet our connection to the landscape and waterways of Te Waipounamu persisted. This enduring connection is what drives us to create the best future for the generations to come. Our responsibilities are not affected by the electoral cycle – we will be representing our interests in perpetuity.

These interests are going to increase as the Māori youth population continues to grow and become an increasingly dominant part of the country’s workforce. The success of our rangatahi presents the most significant opportunity to enhance productivity and ensure collective prosperity in the future. Both iwi and the Crown have a responsibility to work together to create a better future for all. Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us.

A true partnership between iwi and the Crown is what will achieve this change, and this week is an opportunity to build on this. Twenty years after receiving our settlement, Ngāi Tahu are ready to contribute in a way many of us could never have imagined. Here in Te Waipounamu we’ve already seen what is possible with the acknowledgement of Ngāi Tahu as statutory partners in the aftermath of the earthquakes and what this has meant in the subsequent Christchurch rebuild. We need to be on the waka together, moving forward together.