Where do we stand?
From the arrival of the first waka to Aotearoa, Māori have had an enduring relationship with the whenua – it is inherent in our whakapapa and has sustained our people for many generations. In recent times, however, economic potential has tended to outweigh cultural significance in decision-making.
Kaituhi Anna Brankin reports.
In February the board of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu met at Te Kōawa Tūroa o Tākitimu in Jericho Valley, near Te Anau. This culturally significant site is in the heart of the takiwā of Ōraka Aparima Rūnaka, and the hosts took the opportunity to present to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (Te Rūnanga) about their land-based aspirations. For Ōraka Aparima, and many others, land is considered to be sacrosanct, valued for its intrinsic worth to the iwi as mana whenua, independent of its economic success.
This presentation served as a timely reminder for Te Rūnanga Chief Executive Arihia Bennett, who believes that as an organisation, and in fact as an iwi, Te Rūnanga is long overdue for a serious discussion about land. “We once had kaitiakitanga and status across our land,” she says. “We lost our land, but now as a result of the settlement we have the opportunity to get it back. Is that so we can sell it again for a profit? Or is it so we can rebuild our sense of mana whenua and ownership?”
Questions like these bring into play a number of complex and overlapping factors, as well as the opinions and interests of 56,000 iwi members. As it stands, Ngāi Tahu Holdings Corporation Ltd (NTH) operates under an Investment Policy Framework that aims to generate returns of 11 per cent per annum, a rate which will maintain the value of the asset base, as well as providing an appropriate distribution to Te Rūnanga.
This distribution is directed to papatipu rūnanga and iwi members through programmes such as the Marae Development Fund, Whai Rawa (a matched savings scheme), and tertiary scholarships.
The board members of Te Rūnanga are responsible for establishing the Investment Policy Framework, which includes designating what percentage of the portfolio should be made up of each asset class. As such, it is the responsibility of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu to ensure that the Investment Policy Framework accurately reflects the aspirations of the iwi in terms of land ownership.
“It comes back to deciding whether you want volume of land or value of land,” says NTH Chief Executive Mike Sang. “It’s a trade-off that only the iwi can make.
“If you want to come and ask us what the commercial implications are, we can explain those; but fundamentally it’s an issue for the shareholders and we will adapt to whatever they decide.”
In Mike’s experience, land ownership is an emotive issue for the iwi, and NTH is often blamed for carrying out the instructions they were given in good faith. “We get a lot of that feedback,” he says. “But there’s always going to be a broad spectrum of views, and we won’t be able to please everybody. The iwi needs to form a consensus and give us guidelines and we can do it.”
But in order to reach that consensus, individuals, whānau, and rūnanga need a greater understanding of the issues at hand, and this starts at the Te Rūnanga table.
Tā Tipene O’Regan believes the 18 representatives of Te Rūnanga need more support to effectively carry out their duties. “The original model was that every second meeting was a wānanga, led by people coming in to talk to us about topics like fisheries, Māori tourism, and managing a treasury unit,” he says. “And I think that should be a regular process, to discuss the things that the people at the table need to know.”
Compromise is necessary because within the rūnanga there is a clear division between those who want to own land for its own sake, and those who see it as a commercial investment. “The people who are born and bred on the pā, they’re just interested in the land. But some of our other members think we could do more for the rūnanga if we used the land to get returns.”
Francois Tumahai Chair, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae
Aunty Jane Davis, Ōraka Aparima kaumātua, agrees with Tā Tipene. “I think they need a lot of tuition. You know, we put people there at that table and we expect them to be able to understand everything, but it is a huge business!”
It was Aunty Jane who spoke so evocatively at the recent Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu meeting about the historical connection to whenua and the importance of preserving that enduring relationship. “The land is Papatūānuku, you know,” she says simply. “If we look at it like that, she is our mother and without her we are nothing, really.”
Aunty Jane sat on the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board, and was a member of the negotiating team during Te Kerēme – the Ngāi Tahu Claim. She understands the historical significance of land to the iwi, and believes wholeheartedly that it is worth a great deal more than money.
“It might be a financial liability, but it gives back in a different way,” she says. “Think of it like your family home. So much time and effort might go into it, but it’s about the growth of the people who come out of that home. Well, our land is our family home, and we need it to grow our people.”
This belief that land is of paramount importance is shared by Tā Tipene. He tells me about the land purchases that were made by the Crown in the 19th century. “The idea was that when purchases of land were made, every tenth section of rural and urban land would be reserved for the Ngāi Tahu vendors,” he explains. “Over time that tenth section would rise in value, and we would thus be guaranteed a stake in the increasing capitalisation of the country.”
It was the Crown’s failure to award these reserves, and the ensuing losses borne by the iwi, that formed the basis of Te Kerēme, which was fought with the hope of restoring land to the iwi. “Land and place are who we are,” says Tā Tipene. “For the last 40 years I’ve flown across this southern landscape, sailed around its shores, and I’ve seen it as a part of me, and I’ve seen myself and my life’s work as part of it. But there is a very real danger of Ngāi Tahu becoming rich and landless.”
This concern is shared by many throughout the iwi, and a number of papatipu rūnanga are taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen within their rohe. I spoke to Francois Tumahai, chair of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae, about his aspirations.
“We want to own land,” he says. “We’re all about owning land for the future generations. I guess deep down it’s all about land, isn’t it?”
To this end, the rūnanga have purchased a number of investment properties in Hokitika, and have recently obtained a block of land in the Arahura Valley through a mitigation process with Bathurst Resources.
“We’re in both the commercial and cultural space,” says Francois. “The land up the valley has 20 hectares of exotic forestry, so we agreed that we’ll bowl the trees and use the proceeds for investment, but we’ll keep the land and develop it into some farm blocks for stock and gardens to provide for the marae.”
This compromise is necessary because within the rūnanga there is a clear division between those who want to own land for its own sake, and those who see it as a commercial investment. “The people who are born and bred on the pā, they’re just interested in the land,” explains Francois. “But some of our other members think we could do more for the rūnanga if we used the land to get returns.”
“People see it as an ‘either or’ scenario, but I actually see it as an issue of timing. I think we can achieve both – we can own it all, we can exercise kaitiakitanga and mana whenua, we can continue increasing the distribution. It’s just a question of how fast we want to do each of those things.”
Quentin Hix Lawyer, representative for Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua and board director of Ngāi Tahu Holdings Corporation
These opposing attitudes are mirrored throughout the wider iwi, and Aunty Jane believes that the commercial focus stems from a lack of understanding and a sense of disconnect that many iwi members have experienced. “Our young Ngāi Tahu people are growing up separate from our land and our history,” she says sadly. “Somewhere along the way we lost our Māori-ness.”
Ngāi Tahu rangatahi Josh Lodge (Wairewa, Ōnuku) confirms Aunty Jane’s suspicion. He grew up knowing very little about the iwi, and until recently wouldn’t have thought twice about selling land to generate greater profit. But thanks to his internship with Ngāi Tahu Property over the last few months he has had the opportunity to visit his marae for the first time, and has gained an understanding of the significance these places have.
“I think it’s important to look to the past,” he says. “If there’s land that can provide value to Ngāi Tahu, that people can use and benefit from, we should be finding ways to purchase that. But we also have a responsibility to future generations, and I think it’s important we find a balance that allows us to keep building pūtea for them.”
Josh’s caveat gives voice to the feeling shared by everyone that I spoke to: that there needs to be a balance between allowing for an increased tribal footprint, while still continuing to fund the suite of development initiatives designed to benefit rūnanga and iwi members.
So what does this balance look like? Lawyer Quentin Hix serves as the representative for Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua and is also a director on the board of Ngāi Tahu Holdings Corporation, giving him a unique perspective on this situation.
“People see it as an ‘either or’ scenario, but I actually see it as an issue of timing,” he says. “I think we can achieve both – we can own it all, we can exercise kaitiakitanga and mana whenua, we can continue increasing the distribution. It’s just a question of how fast we want to do each of those things.”
According to Quentin, the quickest and most effective way to increase land ownership is actually to continue with the status quo, and focus on building a diversified asset base. If the Investment Policy Framework were altered to instruct a greater investment in land, overall returns would decrease, and in the long run the iwi would have less wealth. “The fastest way to achieve land ownership is to tell Holdings to go forth and generate that 11% every year,” says Quentin. “If it means owning less land now, that’s kei te pai, because we’re going to have more money in a generation’s time to buy it back tenfold.”
As the senior business analyst for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Peter Lyman works closely with the board on issues like this. He agrees with Quentin, stating that the quickest and most effective way to increase iwi land ownership is to generate the highest possible returns in the short term, even if that has the seemingly contradictory effect of pursuing non-land based investments.
Peter also makes a clear distinction between investment and non-investment land, asserting that Ngāi Tahu Holdings Corporation should never own land purely for the sake of its cultural significance. “You need to hold your investment manager accountable for performance, so you don’t want them looking after non-investment assets,” he says. “Te Rūnanga should just earmark bits of land that we want for cultural or environmental reasons, and when they come up for purchase they should just buy them using money from the distribution.”
However, if this option is not preferable, Tā Tipene suggests that increased ownership of land need not be uneconomic if some strategic, long-term thinking is applied to capture a greater portion of the markets that land-based assets operate in. “If you can get a bigger slice of the action off the land, then you’re not just talking of what you get at the farm gate, you’re getting something of the processing and the end product,” says Tā Tipene. “That’s how you make money in the primary sector. For example, we should be allowing Ngāi Tahu Farming to take a much longer and more developed view of the total supply chain to the markets.”
These are just some of the options available to the iwi when thinking about the value of land. Ngāi Tahu needs to take a clear stance to ensure that our interests are protected, and to do so, whānau members and papatipu rūnanga must be given the opportunity to explore and understand these complex issues. Above all, we should heed the warning of our kaumātua who see our tribal footprint shrinking, and fear that we will lose our land, again. “I think of the hard work that went into acquiring that land during the claim,” says Aunty Jane. “Those are the things that people don’t know about.
“It is important to feel that you can stand on your own land in your own place. It gives you a sense of belonging, and it feeds your soul.”