Ngāi Tahu success a lesson for iwi

11:42 pm on 28 November 2017

Analysis - As Treaty claims continue, it's important to reflect on the successful landmark settlements of the past.

The Ngai Tahu hui on Friday.

Ngāi Tahu's hui last week. Photo: Supplied

Ngāi Tahu is often held up as the benchmark of how to successfully navigate the post Treaty of Waitangi settlement environment.

Last weekend, Ngāi Tahu whānau from across the country and abroad gathered at Tuahiwi Marae for the biennial hui-ā-iwi - which was chance to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the iwi signing its deed of settlement.

Tuahiwi Marae was the venue where Ngāi Tahu held its first tribunal hearing for the claim in 1986.

In the midst of ongoing treaty claims - none bigger and more contentious than the current Ngāpuhi treaty claim - it's important to reflect on landmark settlements such as Ngāi Tahu's $170 million settlement.

Sir Tipene O'Regan, who was the chief treaty negotiator for the iwi's claim, remembers how long the negotiation process was - with the tribe's claim first being filed in 1986.

There was also intense scrutiny from the public, media and politicians, with Sir Tipene recalling headlines and news stories stating Ngāi Tahu was going to take over the whole of Te Waipounamu.

Then Prime Minister Jim Bolger recalls the internal tension of the National Party around the settlements - with many of his colleagues believing it would be a disaster for the party and cost it the 1996 election.

Looking back at the environment at the time, applause is due to leaders such as Mr O'Regan and Mr Bolger for their focus in reaching the $170m settlement between the iwi and crown.

The iwi was able to build on the settlement and now has commercial assets in areas such as tourism, farming and property development worth more than $1.3 billion.

Most of the people at the hui-ā-iwi at Tuahiwi Marae couldn't believe how fast the last 20 years had flown past.

Lisa Tumahai, the new kaiwhakahaere o Te Rūnangā o Ngāi Tahu, said she was excited for the future and projects such as the iwi's housing pilot programme, which has already seen five families move into their own homes.

Kahu White and Madeline Simons, two young students on Matakahi scholarships, spoke with pride at how the iwi had built up its foundations for future generations.

However, the iwi still faces many of the issues affecting Māori around the country, with high levels of employment and housing problems.

In a presentation on tribal economies, Ngāi Tahu's research centre director Te Maire Tau said the iwi needed to have tino rangatiratanga of its wealth and ensure it was benefiting its people.

At the Wigram Development in Christchurch, for example, 80 percent of the economic benefits are being directed outside of the iwi.

Ngāi Tahu kaumatua Aroha Ririti Crofts said Ngāi Tahu has done well to grow its initial settlement into a billion dollar iwi empire.

In the last 20 years, she described the iwi's journey as one where it's taken one step forward and been knocked back two more - but they stood up and moved forward each time.

It's an important lesson for other iwi as they look to make their way through the post-Treaty settlement landscape and build a successful future for their tribe.

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