The process of settling Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi was initially fraught with controversy, but has now become an accepted and at times celebrated part of our identity. Nearly 30 years since the first settlement, many Māori groups have seen spectacular commercial success, but many questions remain. Michael Neilson reports.
Spending time in the Ngāti Porou rohe is a little like stepping back in time into the real Aotearoa.
Perched out on the North Island's East Coast, it boasts spectacular, pohutakawa-laden beaches; traffic jams involve cattle being shifted down the highway; and people here actually do live off the land and the sea, and have done for generations.
It has also produced some of this nation's greatest figures, including the revered Tā Apirana Ngata, and World War II hero Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu.
But despite the natural beauty of the land and its people, the region has for years sat near the bottom end of many of the country's social statistics.
A lack of jobs and opportunities, and subsequent increase in crime and drugs, fuelled by generations of neglect and broken promises, have seen droves leave the region as businesses and industries have dried up.
People face more health challenges here, too. North of Tolaga Bay and up to the East Cape, Māori die on average 10 years younger than the national age, and face much higher rates of preventable disease.
But with one of the country's largest iwi finding its feet in the post-settlement environment, and a range of innovative Māori enterprises starting up, the future is looking bright.
The Treaty and its broken promises
Ngāti Porou is one of the largest iwi in New Zealand, consisting of about 76,000 members, and comprising 58 hapū and 48 marae.
In 1840 rangātira signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which came to be regarded in much the same sense as biblical covenants. Meanwhile, Crown actions soon created disillusionment.
Iwi power: $2.4b from 30 years of Treaty settlements
Between 1882 and 1992 the Crown compulsorily took Ngāti Porou land for public purposes on more than 2000 occasions.
Despite this, overall Ngāti Porou stayed loyal to the Crown, on many occasions fighting alongside them, while many Māori across the country rebelled.
"From the Treaty onwards, Ngāti Porou looked to be an exemplary partner to the Crown," Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Porou chief executive Herewini Te Koha said.
"We talk long and hard of our various war efforts, and have ingrained in our post contact history the fundamental price of citizenship those families demonstrated."
In 1914 Ngāti Porou offered their support for the World War I effort, and again during WWII where 25 per cent of the 3600 men who formed and reinforced the 28 (Māori) Battalion were from Tairāwhiti (East Coast).
The casualty rate for C Company, made up of about 75 per cent Ngāti Porou, was nearly 70 per cent.
Despite this immense loyalty, by the early 1990s, the East Coast had become one of the most socio-economically deprived regions in New Zealand.
"We retained sizeable land holdings in the colonial period, but in every other sense of the Treaty partnership we experienced a heavily marginalised life. We have been a district in neglect," Te Koha said.
The Crown was slow to provide infrastructure on the East Coast, and education long lagged behind the national rates.
Unemployment has been a major problem since the 1950s, and by the early 1990s the East Coast had the highest unemployment rate of any region, and had become one of its most deprived in socio-economic terms.
Today the median income around Ruatoria and the East Cape is about $19,000, and unemployment about 15 per cent.
As a result of the poor opportunities many Ngāti Porou have migrated to other districts since 1945. Now more than 80 per cent of Ngāti Porou live outside the East Coast, and an estimated 20,000 as far away as Australia.
As a result Ngāti Porou communities have suffered in many ways, including by having fewer people remaining to support local marae.
In its 2010 deed of settlement, the Crown apologised to Ngāti Porou for its past dealings that breached the Crown's obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.
These included the detention without trial of some Ngāti Porou on the Chatham Islands, the Crown's abuse at times of its monopoly powers to purchase Ngāti Porou land, and the Crown's failure in a number of ways to respect Ngāti Porou rangātiratanga in the administration of their own land.
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As part of its settlement Ngāti Porou received $110m, comprising $90m in financial and commercial redress and $20m in cultural redress.
Dr Apirana Mahuika, chair of the rūnanga since it was founded in 1987 until his death in 2015, told the Herald at the time the collective future of his iwi was what drove him.
"We have to develop ourselves at home because if you can't keep the home fires burning and if you can't keep the sentiment of your people and the tikanga they belong to, then you lose them. And we don't want to lose them because they are the repositories of our history, our knowledge, our tikanga and our reo."
In it for the long haul
Te Koha said that in the seven years since settlement the iwi had made "steady progress".
"Others might say we could have spent more, or distributed more to hapū and the community, but we have got to take a long-term view.
"We are growing the commercial base of the group so we can make investments in our people over time, decade to decade."
The iwi had seen its asset base grow to $243m in 2018, with an investment focus in various financial assets, fisheries, as well as smaller investments in honey and tourism.
It had seen a return of 7.4 per cent in 2018, and steady returns of about 4.4 per cent since 2013.
A key difference from other settlements, which resulted from large-scale land alienation, was that much of the East Coast land remained in Ngāti Porou hands.
About 1.5 million hectares of land across New Zealand was in Māori hands, with about 310,000ha in the Tairāwhiti region. That represented just over a quarter of the entire district.
"Our land base is much larger than some of the other iwi, so for us the challenge is finding options for land owners to be able to continue to hold on to it, while improving productivity," Te Koha said.
However, unlike settlements such as those in downtown Auckland, a lot of Ngāti Porou land was of relatively low economic value.
"Because the Crown had a small footprint here, we don't have any get-rich-quick levers like in those metropolitan areas with the rights of first refusal over surplus land.
"But we do have a population here that is overwhelmingly us, so we are not having to translate our values to other audiences. We have our own whenua, and hold mana over our district."
Part of its settlement redress included a strategic partnership arrangement between Ngāti Porou and the Crown over specified public conservation lands within the area of interest.
The iwi had also entered a joint management agreement over the Waiapu catchment, with Gisborne District Council in 2015. This built on a 100-year partnership to restore the catchment, launched in 2014 with the Crown.
The primary sector remained the "backbone" of the district, Te Koha said, but due to severe erosion issues they were looking towards less intensive industries too.
Erosion had significantly accelerated since European settlement began on the East Coast in the 19th century, due to deforestation to make land available for farming.
Crown reforestation policies had not resolved the problem, and eroding land was also choking vital waterways, including the iwi's sacred Waiapu River, which received 35 million tonnes of sediment each year - 17 per cent of the entire country's from 0.6 per cent of the land.
Forestry slash was also an increasing issue, as evidenced by the flash flooding at Tolaga Bay over Queen's Birthday last year, meaning many areas did not suit intensive development.
The iwi was promoting the burgeoning mānuka honey industry through its collective partnership Ngāti Porou Miere, and supporting landowners in developing their own businesses and collaborations.
"Half a generation ago mānuka was treated as scrub, but now we know some of the mānuka in the northern part of the district produce very high UMF mānuka honey."
Another key area was in seafoods, with Ngāti Porou Seafoods returning $1.3m in profit in the 2017/2018 financial year.
Te Koha said as an iwi organisation all of its investments needed to not only be profitable, but also to incorporate Māori values of kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga.
"As an iwi authority there are hardwired expectations we act as guardians of the land and resources, make sure we uphold Ngāti Porou values, supporting a healthy and vibrant tūrangawaewae."
Boosting job and land opportunities was also a means to turn around the challenging social statistics in the rohe.
"The median income is just on $19,000 a year around Ruatoria and the East Cape, that means half of those are on or below that.
"There are few options to break that cycle with the pressures of weekly outgoings, looking after children, dependants and even saving. So we have to focus on how we are bringing job opportunities and raising incomes."
The rūnanga was a major service provider north of Tolaga Bay, including through its primary health organisation Ngāti Porou Hauora, based at Te Puia Springs.
Te Koha said another key element in the post-settlement environment was its increased ability to lobby the Government of the day to invest in their rohe.
"Our role continues to be to hold the Crown to account to be a good Treaty partner, and we are finding increasingly that to be the case."
Bringing the whānau home
In 2016, Tairāwhiti company Hikurangi Enterprises ran a survey of 512 Ngāti Porou members living outside the rohe, and found 90 per cent wanted to come home, and a quarter had plans to.
But holding them back was a lack of jobs, infrastructure and lack of cultural and land connection.
Managing director Panapa Ehau, of Ngāti Porou and hapū Ngāti Uepōhatu descent, and his partner made a conscious decision to return to the region to raise their children in 2013.
Ehau was born in Ruatoria, before moving to Gisborne for school at age 7 then leaving the district for university studies.
"As a result of urban drift we have lost many iwi members from the region, so for our family returning was something we always wanted to do."
They now have four tamariki – aged 6 months to 8 years, all with te reo as their first language – those speaking at least – and all deeply immersed within what it is to be Ngāti Porou.
The idea behind their company, formed in 2016 by a charitable trust established by a collective of hapū, was to stimulate the local economy and create jobs in innovative industries so more Ngāti Porou could return home.
One of those was Hikurangi Cannabis, which last year became the country's first company to get a licence to develop medicinal cannabis.
"A number of hapū previously had a focus on the environment, but not economic wellbeing," Ehau said.
"The idea was to try and move away from typical primary production to high-value industries, with less impact on the land, and create sustainable jobs."
Hikurangi Enterprises currently had about 30 employees, and estimated across its organisations and companies would have created more than 100 jobs over the next couple of years.
It was also looking at the bioactives market, including kānuka and even kina extracts.
Ehau said their company were one of many exciting prospects for the region.
"There is a lot of hope for the future. There has been a shift in the thoughts around how land can be used, from predominantly fiscal to its health and wellbeing for future generations as well."
Monday: Iwi power: $2.4b from 30 years of Treaty of Waitangi settlements
Tuesday: Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei: The $1b hapū in the heart of the super city / Waikato-Tainui: The $1.4b iwi
Wednesday: Ngāi Tahu: From landless to a $2b iwi
Thursday: Ngāti Porou: A loyal iwi seeking to transform its community
Friday: Ngāpuhi: The bright future that beckons