Te Tai Tokerau's longest-serving chief executive, Te Rarawa CEO Kevin Robinson, retired last week after 30 years of service to his people.

Having seen the establishment of the rūnanga, and steering the organisation through the iwi's Treaty settlement, he said he was leaving the iwi in a strong post-settlement position, meaning that it was no longer a time to look at grievances, but at development for the iwi, the wider community and the local economy.

"We're looking at things with a different set of eyes. We now have the appropriate structures in place, and can set out how that development can create a new future," he said.

Figures released at Te Rarawa's annual general meeting showed the iwi has grown its asset base from $39.8 million in 2015 to $70.3m, Mr Robinson saying the future strength for iwi would lie in working together to grow their asset base collectively, for the benefit of the Māori community and the wider local community alike.

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"If Te Rarawa benefits, Tai Tokerau benefits and the whole community benefits," he said.

Kevin Robinson has left the helm after 30 years. Photo / Supplied
Kevin Robinson has left the helm after 30 years. Photo / Supplied

After 20 years as CEO, he was extremely proud of the organisation's achievements since he volunteered, in 1989, to help then chairman John Campbell, when the rūnanga was known as Te Roopu a iwi o Te Rarawa. He recalled setting up the rūnanga office at Te Aupouri House, staffed by one person, and had worked with every Te Rarawa chairman since.

"Whina Cooper led out the 1975 land march, and Te Rarawa became very active in seeking redress," he said. "In the beginning it was all about making things better for our children and our Te Rarawa whānau. We had huge concentration in getting our treaty settlements dealt with. It was 40 years from then until we settled in 2015.

"I've seen a lot of our Te Rarawa whānau pass away in that period, and they never got to see the fruits of their work. To have been part of those early discussions, listening to the aspirations of our kuia and kaumātua, then to see it through to final settlement with the Crown, I am very fortunate."

He was excited too about the future and potential for Te Rarawa and Māori in driving a new Māori economy, and how that would flow into the wider community.

"It's all about building relationships, and from those relationships we're creating a better future for our children," he said. "If we're going to make a difference economically, we've got to develop our people, and see more of our tamariki come out of school with higher qualifications. We really want to invest in them."

Last year Te Rarawa granted $38,500 in scholarships, with the amount increasing year-on-year.

Meanwhile, Mr Robinson believed his departure was timely. The role needed refreshing, and with processes, procedures and staff in position, it was time for him to move in a new direction.

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"With my retirement comes the opportunity for the Te Rarawa board and staff to formulate a great future and appoint a new CEO to guide the waka through the next part of the journey," he said.

"With the dedicated staff we have, and new trustees on board, I'm handing over responsibility for this multimillion-dollar organisation into safe hands."

Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said Mr Robinson's achievements in the arena of the iwi's Treaty claim and negotiations had been outstanding, his organisational leadership in underwriting direct negotiations with the Crown proving critical to getting negotiations "over the line", and his own personal contribution to the process fundamental to their success.

"Te Rarawa is fortunate to have a leader of such vast experience remain in the ranks of our support networks," Mr Piripi said.

"Although retiring as CEO, Kevin will undoubtedly continue to contribute toward our organisational capability and governance capacity. His elder status within in our community and cultural competence will always be called upon to ensure the ongoing efficacy of the iwi that is Te Rarawa, and his beloved marae Motutī, and the people of Hokianga.

"Me mihi ka tika ki a ia, i whaka pau tōna kaha mo te orangatonutanga o ngā uri whakatupu kia tū ai matou hei iwi rangatira!"

Meanwhile, Mr Robinson also retired last week from the role of chairman of Amokura — Te Tai Tokerau Chief Executives' Consortium, which has gained increasing philanthropic support for the development of iwi-led economic and social development projects.

"The forums I've been part of have massive potential to change the economic landscape of Te Tai Tokerau, and I look forward to seeing what groups like Amokura and Te Hiku Development Trust will achieve in the coming years," he added.

And has his departure brought the end of an era for the iwi, he paid respects to those who had also been part of the journey.

"Without the support of my whānau I wouldn't have been able to do it. I've spent a lot of time away from home, and my whānau and wider whānau have supported me immensely.

"It's been a job that's taken me everywhere, nationally and internationally — London, Hong Kong, Spain. I've met some wonderful people and am very thankful to all those who have supported me."

As chairman of his marae, Motutī, he intended to continue working for his people, however.

"You can't help but stay involved in iwi affairs, so I will still be doing what needs to be done at a hapū level," he said.