Cover Story : Kiwi lessons from iwi governance

People, planet and profit. While the triple bottom line approach may not have been expressly mentioned at recent symposium in Wellington, this concept could best describe what Māori organisations are considering at the dawn of post-Treaty settlement era that has the potential to significantly alter not only the Māori world but Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Governance, the Māori economy, cultural heritage and natural resources were the major themes at ‘Te Pourewa Arotahi – The Elevated Platform for Resolution’, recent symposium where chief Ngai Tahu treaty negotiator and keynote presenter Sir Tipene O’Regan spoke about the post-Treaty of Waitangi settlement era, economic development potential, and the dilemma between commercial and cultural interests.
Sir Tipene called for innovative and creative thinking about the economic challenges and opportunities for iwi in post-Treaty settlement era.
“That thinking,” he said, “must have as its outcome norms of Māori governance which can work effectively for the long-term benefit of Māori. This will not be achieved by merely relabelling existing Pākehā governance norms in te reo.”
Analysis by Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry for Māori Development, shows that Māori participation in New Zealand’s GDP has lifted significantly from $2.6 billion (or 1.96 percent) in 2003 to $8.3 billion (or 5.35 percent) in 2006.
Between 2001 and 2006 the Māori commercial asset base increased 83 percent from $8.9 billion to $16.6 billion. Around $6 billion of that asset base was in some form of collective ownership. The treaty settlement process is estimated to represent $2 billion and future settlements will add further $1.4 billion to those figures.
While acknowledging that Māori have range of traditional values on which to draw, Sir Tipene cautioned that “there is nothing in our collective past which provides clear precedence for the contemporary and future challenge”.
He said the norms of good governance are appropriate for Māori organisations but the governance model must be designed and structured to suit the fundamentally particular aims and requirements of iwi Māori.
“This does not mean that Māori governance should be any less rigorous or demanding of directors, trustees or management,” he said. “What it does mean is that in its design, practice and ethos it should be Māori and not merely imitative of generally articulated Pākehā values and principles.”
In Sir Tipene’s view, the most important underlying principle is that operational governance must reflect, both in philosophy and practice, the fact that Māori entities are essentially inter-generational in character and are collectively owned. This poses fundamental contrast with the governance requirements of the single-generation market economy with which Māori are surrounded.
He added that further factor is cultural need to recover or protect the rohe, or land, with which particular iwi may identify. Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa, for example, has been active in purchasing land within its tribal boundary: notably large dairy unit on the Rangitaiki Plains.
A distinctive characteristic of Māori tribal enterprises is that they are “ultimately, not for sale”, said Sir Tipene. “And although their profits may be distributed by way of share dividends or in range of forms which may be loosely described as ‘charitable’, they are generally intended to be vehicles which can, and will, maintain their capital wealth inter-generationally.”
He added there are few satisfactory examples and “an overriding aim of intergenerational wealth maintenance is tall order”.
However, he contended that it is possible for an iwi-owned economic entity to acquire assets, and hold and grow them on an intergenerational basis. He also believes it is possible to reduce the problems of centralised corporate model of benefit distribution to iwi members with its attendant risk of merely privatising benefit dependency.
In Sir Tipene’s view, Māori must look for “a unique solution away from conventional economic management norms and understandings of the nature of benefit”. In short, iwi must construct uniquely Māori economic paradigm centred on the intergenerational requirements of the tribe. If the tribe is to endure then its capital must endure with it.
Speaking at the same symposium, distinguished professor Graham Smith, CEO of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, said sustainable economic development is fundamental to enabling more self-determining existence.
Smith has just returned from Alaska where, since their settlements in the 1940s, tribes have reorganised themselves as multi-billion-dollar corporations.
“It was particularly interesting,” he said, “to observe at the Annual Alaskan Federation of Natives Convention that the natives sat under the banners of different corporations: for example the Sea Alaska Corporation, the Denali Foundation, the North Slope Corporation and so on.”
Professor Smith said sustainable economic development is fundamental to enabling more self-determining existence and Māori needed to take more care as they position themselves for the future.
“Iwi cannot have sustainable or effective socio-economic revolution without prior or simultaneous education and schooling revolution. If the treaty settlement phase has been mostly about lawyers, then the post-treaty settlement era needs to accentuate education and skills development.”
While treaty settlements are important, many people believe the key is for iwi to unlock the potential value of the Māori asset base both by themselves and with assistance from other partners and stakeholders.
Significantly, most of this activity is happening in the provinces and is expected to provide lift for these areas: many of which are experiencing considerable socio-economic problems.
Māori already have strong presence in the primary and tourism sectors: both of which are important for both Māori and wider New Zealand economic growth. The nature of the Māori asset base, cultural connections and ownership of tribal and pan-tribal entities means that Māori assets, ownership, and wealth will always remain in New Zealand.
Although much of the iwi-administered asset base is now in the primary industries, iwi are increasingly looking to emerging industries and exploring the possibility of private or Crown partnerships.
Early Ngai Tahu and Tainui settlements have provided benchmark for many subsequent agreements. Both groups now have assets estimated at around $640 million apiece.
Lessons are still being learnt: witness the latest political ructions for Tainui with very convoluted organisational structure and large number of players. As commentator Rawiri Taonui said in succinctly Māori way: “Indeed at every bend of the Waikato River there is taniwha.” This refers to the well known Tainui proverb “Ko Waikato he piko he taniwha.” At every bend of the Waikato River there is chief.
Some tribes have elected to take their grievances to the Waitangi Tribunal where the opportunity to tell their stories at the hearings has proved cathartic for some. Currently group of Ngā Puhi wants to proceed down this track while the main group prefers to negotiate directly with Government. Iwi will often take both approaches simultaneously, as was the case with Ngāti Awa and Tuhoe.
Settlement processes require considerable research, which has resulted in huge body of iwi knowledge.
The Sealord deal highlights potential problems. In this case, it took almost 12 years for the former Fisheries Commission to develop method by which fisheries assets were to be shared equitably between all iwi.
Capacity remains an issue and considerable effort has been invested over several years to strengthen the governance and management capabilities of Māori organisations by groups such as the Federatio

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