From the CEO

Chief Executive Officer,
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu,
Arihia Bennett

Settlement 20 years on: My journey

This year Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu celebrates 20 years since the Settlement was signed with the Crown in 1997. At that time our tribal membership registration was around 8500. In comparison, more than 56,000 are registered today. The year ahead will be a walk down memory lane as we set out to celebrate the long pathway leading up to the Settlement through a number of events, to be held in the coming months.

What were you doing 20 years ago? I was living the dream in the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, Piopiotahi, also known as Milford Sound. At that time some of you may not have been born, some may not have made a connection into their Ngāi Tahu whakapapa, and other whānau (like the seven generations before them) were totally immersed in the historic journey towards the Settlement.

So what does 20 years “post-Settlement” mean for me, apart from escalating in age and expanding my waistline? 1997 was also the year that I returned to live with my extended whānau in Tuahiwi. There was no escape from becoming immersed in rūnanga activities, especially when you only lived a few houses away from the Tuahiwi Marae, otherwise known as “the hall”, because it really did look like a community hall.

Having successfully run large hotels and tourism ventures, I thought my experiences would be welcomed in the kitchen. However, this only lasted five minutes before Aunty Toko suggested I pop out the front to find out what was happening, and come back with a report (not so much on what they were talking about, but more importantly, when they would be ready to eat). While this might appear to be idle chit-chat, it was actually quite a significant turning point for me, as it was this very activity that then catapulted me onto the Ngāi Tahu Development Corporation Board two years later in 1999.

The years ahead in my tribal journey would see me dive deep into our reason for being. Sitting on a subsidiary board (Ngāi Tahu Development Corporation) within Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and participating in your own Papatipu Rūnanga meant you needed your wits about you, so there was no excuse for not being well informed. I read furiously, I talked to lots of people, and I listened intently both at the marae and in other fora like the Hui-ā-Tau. Like many others I was in awe of our tribal journey, so to then find myself years later joining Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as the CEO in 2012, I was indeed grateful and privileged. I know I have to make best use of this time to ensure that we are truly making a difference.

Having reminisced about the last 20 years there is a real curiosity around what the future holds. How do we remain anchored in Ngāi Tahutanga while balancing constant societal changes? What will health, education, the economy, and employment look like, given the rise of automated technology, artificial intelligence, and driverless cars? How will we respond to the challenges of climate change? I’m keen to find out, so I guess I better start planning for the next 20 years now, so I don’t get left behind!