Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu chairperson Lisa Tumahai is stepping down after six years in the position.
Tuamahai (Ngāi Tahu, Tainui, Ngāti Hikairo, Ngāti Kahungunu) says she has always held a firm understanding of the importance of indigenous leadership in decisions about the future.
A respected and sought-after adviser in both the public and private sectors, Tumahai was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2023 New Year Honours.
The first female chair of the rūnanga, who was elected to the role in 2017, says it is time for her to step down to let the next generation in and take Ngāi Tahu “into the next decade”.
She will step down from the rūnanga entirely, after being part of it for more than 20 years.
“I made the decision not to re-stand three years ago,” she says. “We’re now at that point, so I’m excited for the next leadership coming through.”
‘A lot of wāhine that lead’
Reflecting on when she was first elected, when she was interim chair for one year, she says: “At the time it was not something I was thinking about. The priority in my mind was how to bring about stabilisation and unity to the board, how to rebuild kotahitanga and work in a more cohesive way, where the priorities at a board level were our whānau.
“Being the first wāhine [elected], Ngāi Tahu is a very matriarchal tribe and we have a lot of wāhine that lead.”
One of her proudest achievements includes the progression and further development of Whai Rawa, the Ngāi Tahu savings scheme.
She is also hoping her successor can achieve things she was unable to do.
“One of them is ensuring the regional connection with our marae.
Climate challenges for successor
“The second is climate change-related. I’ve left a challenge to the tribe to do something about bottom trawling.
“The third is also climate-related, which is our tourism initiative; how long do you stay in those tourism ventures where they’re being significantly impacted by climate change?”
Tumahai will continue to press the board on these challenges from the outside.
“We have to be authentic and relevant to our people. If we’re not, we shouldn’t be in the role. It’s really important to try to stay connected to the ground.”
She will chair the selection process for her successor on November 24.