A Taranaki iwi has lost almost $20 million, wiping the total value of its $14.5 million 2003 Treaty of Waitangi settlement, as its leaders go to ground following the announcement.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson labelled the situation "very sad indeed" but expressed confidence in the wider strength of iwi organisations' post-settlement bodies to manage their assets.
From the region's north, Ngati Tama has reportedly lost almost $20 million with just $1.5 million in tribal assets remaining.
The chief executive of the Ngati Tama Development Trust, Greg White, appears to have fallen on his sword, resigning with two other trust members. Mr White was prominent negotiating the original deal before shifting roles to manage the asset.
A former National Party electoral candidate, he built a profile around the issue of settlementsearly last decade but could not be contacted yesterday.
Tribal members learned of the financial disaster at a meeting held at Pukearuhe Marae. Kaumatua Wiremu Matuku spoke of his shame to the Taranaki Daily News saying:
"Our tribe is devastated, not only by the news, but also by the realisation that once it becomes public Ngati Tama will be battered by speculation over why various investments went so bad. We are going to have to carry a heavy burden of shame and accusation."
It reportedly invested $12.5 million in a failed software company, My Virtual Home, which is in liquidation.
The full amount of losses is thought to total $19.8 million.
Iwi member and Te Wananga o Aotearoa chairman Richard Batley is part of a panel bought in to salvage the tribe's assets. He also did not return Herald calls yesterday.
Mr Finlayson said iwi would never be bailed out for losses made after settlement. Asked if there was enough done to ensure that iwi had strong post-settlement arrangements, the minister said he believed there was.
"Yes, the Crown has a well-established approach ... that balances the Crown's responsibility to make sure the iwi are in a position to manage the settlement assets against the need for iwi to plot their own destiny.
"Any ongoing involvement of the Crown in iwi decision-making is a return to a very paternalistic period in our past. It also undermines the concept of full and final settlement by suggesting the Crown has an on-going role as guarantor."
The settlement was largely cash based although 1870ha of conservation land was transferred, where public access was preserved.