The Tuhoe iwi is negotiating to take over social services for its people in an ambitious bid to end welfare "dependency".

The tribe wants to take over welfare payments, schools, healthcare and housing within its Urewera tribal area from Whakatane south to Lake Waikaremoana.

Tuhoe chief executive Kirsti Luke said a majority of Tuhoe people in that area were on benefits, and tribal leader Tamati Kruger said the iwi aimed to change that.

"We are declaring war on dependency," Mr Kruger said. "Our motivation is that if we want to be a vibrant people, to be a productive people who live up to their beliefs and to their faith as to what life is all about, and the honour that has to be part of humanity, then this is clearly what we have to overcome - because being a beneficiary is a type of servitude."


Mr Kruger said Tuhoe had put a proposition to the Government to make better use of the $55 million a year taxpayers spend on welfare benefits for 4934 Maori beneficiaries around the Tuhoe tribal area. At the last Census, the tribe had 35,000 members.

"We believe that we can design a system where there is a transition from benefits to wages and salaries," he said.

Consultants have told the Government that Maori who received benefits in Tuhoe's area in 2012-13 would cost it $735.4 million in their lifetimes under current policies.

The tribe employs 36 of the 40 Conservation Department staff who formerly worked in the old Urewera National Park. The park was disestablished by a 2013 Treaty settlement and is now a separate legal entity called Te Urewera, run by a board chaired by Mr Kruger with equal numbers of Crown and Tuhoe appointees.

Tuhoe managers have been appointed to replace the two former DoC managers, who the department says are now "supporting the transition and implementation of Te Urewera work". Two other DoC staff declined to transfer to the new entity.

The iwi has set up its own doctors' clinic in Taneatua, without state funding. More than 500 of its 884 enrolled patients were not previously enrolled at any clinic in the Bay of Plenty.

Tuhoe is now negotiating with the Education Ministry to share control of the 15 schools in its area and use them as hubs to develop health services, skills training and jobs.

A spokeswoman for Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said officials were "working with Tuhoe representatives on the practical implementation of these aspirations ... Research has been undertaken to assist in the development of potential initiatives."


Social Development Ministry principal adviser Neil Martin said consultants were working on "how an education initiative could be approached" and "how we could build on education through a strategic development plan that will incorporate cross-social-sector outcome improvement".