Greedy 'sharks' circling Ngati Porou

By Yvonne Tahana

Te Runanga o Ngati Porou chairman Api Mahuika. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Te Runanga o Ngati Porou chairman Api Mahuika. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Greedy "sharks" are already circling Te Runanga o Ngati Porou as it gears up to grow its $110 million treaty settlement.

The country's second largest iwi - with 72,000 - members signed a deed of settlement with the government in December.

Legislation to formalise the deed was mooted for early this year - the runanga has outlined to the Herald how it intends to capitalise on what is the second largest single-iwi deal.

But runanga chairman Api Mahuika said he was already receiving letters from outsiders who were promising all sorts of riches for the iwi if it would let them manage the settlement.

"We have many sharks going round and round and you're in the middle watching the fins.

"It makes me sick."

Those people never had a chance, Mr Mahuika said, because the iwi was always going to be in charge of its own destiny.

Work is under way on the initiatives the settlement is likely to support. They could include:

* A science of technology and innovation unit, to work with universities to find more efficient and profitable ways of managing farms, aquaculture and fisheries

* A school of excellence focused on tikanga and reo. An associated sporting academy would call on the expertise of elite sportspeople from the iwi such as Rico Gear, Rua Tipoki.

* Housing and alternative education

* Working with schools to develop a science syllabus which would prepare students to work for the tribe in the future

A new governance entity will replace the runanga, probably in September, after the legislation is passed.

But the runanga will also pass over $50 million worth of forestry, farming, health and radio assets "frugally" built up from nothing since 1987. Those operations ensure 300 in the region work, making it one of the largest employers.

New tribal financial investments won't be soley about the bottom line. Instead they'll focus on people, Mr Mahuika said.

"I don't believe that growing the bank balance at the expense of our people is the way to go.

"What you have to do while you're looking at investments is consider where your people sit and where the employment opportunities sit.

"You are growing your economic wealth on one hand and growing the employability of your people to look after those assets that you are growing."

The tribe's region stretches from part of Gisborne north around the East Cape to Hicks Bay. It is an area that always rates poorly in the social deprivation index.

He hoped the settlement would lead to the rejuvenation of settlements such as Tikitiki where the RSA is the only institution left standing after its dairy, farming store, and hotel had long ago closed.

The combination of cultural and economic plans were bold enough to kick start a Ngati Porou renaissance, he believed.

"We have to develop ourselves at home because if you can't keep the home fires burning and if you can't keep the sentiment of your people and the tikanga that they belong to - then you lose them... and we don't want to lose them because they are the repositories of our history, our knowledge, our tikanga and our reo."

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