Maori and Pacific incomes still lag behind the national average, but a new spirit of Maori self-determination offers hope. Simon Collins reports in the first of a major four-part Herald investigation into closing our ethnic gaps.

Yvonne Costar is used to seeing Maori families around her battling on struggle street. The single mother, whose family makes do on her income, is the manager of the Matata Community Resource Centre, a linchpin of the seaside eastern Bay of Plenty settlement.

"People around here are used to seeing the last couple of generations struggle and they are living on white bread and cheap milk ... they think that's all there is."

Besides seasonal work in the kiwifruit industry, there aren't enough jobs for local Maori.

Ms Costar has been told she's fortunate to have a job, but life is still tough in her household.


Even providing school lunches for her 15-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, the two of her five children who live with her, is a stretch.

"We don't go to the movies, on holidays, or anywhere where you have to pay to get in," she says.

It's because of these hardships and those she sees around her each day that she has high hopes for a newly-launched strategy to improve life for Bay of Plenty Maori.

The region has the third-highest proportion of Maori in New Zealand, but Maori still tend to earn less than the region's average salary.

Linking Bay of Plenty's Maori economic growth with its Maori wellbeing is the vision of He Mauri Ohooho, New Zealand's first regionally co-ordinated Maori economic development strategy.

It has been guided by an advisory group of Maori business interests, iwi representatives, council members, economic agencies and other organisations, and has kicked off with an economic analysis of Maori in the wider region.

Launched after two years of development, the strategy focuses on the key areas of income, employment, health and education.

Six priorities - strategic leadership, collective asset utilisation, business networks, high value business growth, capital and investment and education and skill development - would be progressed by a newly formed "action group".