[Marxism] An interview with a Ngai Tahu leader

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Mar 4 14:02:29 MST 2004

Given the interest in 'Whale Rider', people might be iterested in the 
innterview with Ngai Tahu leader, Te Maire Tau.  Ngai Tahu are the tribe 
whose territory covered much of the South Island.  They are also 
probably the most intermarried of all the tribes - the last full-blooded 
Ngai Tahu died in 1912, so many Ngai Tahu are fairly pakeha-looking (ie 
white).  Ngai Tahu are also the most successful tribe in terms of 
capitalist development, although the average income of working class 
Ngai Tahu is about $NZ14,000 (which is about $US8,000).  This puts them 
in the same category as the lowest-income pakeha (poor whites).

The success of Ngai Tahu as a corporation - and they're much more a 
corporation than anything identifiable with pre-colonisation social 
organisation of Maori - would be quite a contrast to Ngati Porou, the 
tribe in 'Whale Rider', whose area is one of the most bleak and 
depressed in NZ.

A few further points for those unfamiliar with New Zealand.

Taniwha is a mythical being, a bit like trolls.

Don Brash is the new leader of the National Party and the former 
governor of the Reserve Bank.  He's a social liberal (voted for the 
recent legalisation of brothels, supports abortion, aspects of gay 
rights, etc) and was closely associated with new right economics in the 
80s and 90s.  About a month ago he made a famous, or infamous, speech at 
a Rotary Club meeting in Auckland calling for an end to 'preferential 
treatment' to Maori.  National, which has been languising in the polls 
since their 1999 election defeat, and their even bigger defeat in 2002, 
shot up in the polls and overtook Labour for the first time in about six 
years.  By 'preferential treatment' he was referring to 'race-based' 
funding in health and education, laws which make consultation with iwi 
compulsory in a large range of areas, 'special' scholarships and quota 
systems in some areas of entry to education and medical training.

Much of these quotas, consultation processes etc were actually created 
by Brash's own National Party which was in government from 1990-99 and 
they also existed within the Reserve Bank during his long reign as governor.

The reference at the end to 'sun-tanned NZers' is that Keith Holyoake 
was the National Party prime minister from 1960-1972 and looked forward 
optimistically, at the height of the postwar boom, to a stable, 
prosperous NZ in which everyone would be part Maori.

The Listener is a liberal weekly magazine, which is usually fairly 
'politically correct' on 'race' issues, but sometimes carries more 
conservative and once in a while more left views.

LISTENER March 6-12 2004 Vol 192 No 3330
A Wealth of Talent
by Bruce Ansley

Ngai Tahu don't want a bar of "race-based privilege". They can make far
greater gains for Maori by generating wealth themselves and using it to
improve their communities and help underachievers get university
qualifications. If Ngai Tahu had more time for taniwha, the spectre of 
Don Brash would certainly haunt the corridors of the tribe's 
Christchurch headquarters.

They're in the old Reserve Bank building, all granite and gravitas. So 
the former Reserve Bank Governor might cast a long shadow there if the 
Ngai Tahu weren't so devoutly capitalist. Or collective capitalists, as 
they call themselves.

Brash wants to end so-called race-based privilege? Let him. The Ngai 
Tahu never had any time for it. In fact, the iwi repudiate just about 
every popular fable, prejudice and misgiving about Maori.

They out-Brash Brash. They just keep getting richer. In just five years 
they almost doubled their settlement with the Crown. Their growth rate, 
in fact, is rather more than Brash seemed able to contemplate when he 
was the central bank's governor.

Their net worth is now almost $300m. They have achieved that through 
sound business dealings and good management. They pay for everything. 
They don't take handouts. The notion of an ethereal Brash lurking in the 
lifts like some cold wraith leaves them undisturbed. "My village is 
surrounded by taniwha," says Te Maire Tau. "But we're never going to 
stop a road because of taniwha."

Tau, 38, is at the edge of Ngai Tahu philosophy. He holds a doctorate in
history. He is a former head of the tribe's tertiary education 
partnership, Te Tapuae o Rehua, which works with the big five tertiary 
institutions in the south to increase Maori participation. He is now a 
strategic adviser and one of the 18 rununga or village representatives 
who make up Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, the tribe's power base.

Tau advocates what he calls real-politik, meaning basing the iwi's 
fortunes on reality rather than ideals, summed up like this:

"As a tribe, we have to recognise that the world has changed. We're a
capitalist democratic society with liberal values. As a tribe - and as a
people as a whole - we have to accept that we're no longer a traditional
community with traditional values, because capitalism won't back down."

So Ngai Tahu's priority is generating wealth and distributing it, and 
they are proving good at it. They have grown their 1998 settlement of 
$170m, which even Brash concedes was owed to them, into total assets of 
$392m. Last year, they reported a 28 percent rise in revenue (to $146m) 
from their business interests in tourism, property, seafood and company 
shareholdings, and equity growth of 8.6 percent to $291m.

That business, says Tau, demands that they grow professional, trades and
artisan classes. "And education is the best way to do that, the best way 
to create a middle class.

"For capitalism to work, you need protestant Calvinist values. That's a 
work ethic, a savings ethic. You don't rely on the hand of God or your 
ancestors or your past to solve it. With protestant values, you take 

"In Te Tapuae, we concentrate on low socio-economic groups. They come 
from a background of underachieving. We had to instil in them the values 
of achievers."

Under Tau, Te Tapuae concentrated on preparatory or foundation courses 
for students at Otago University and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute 
of Technology (CPIT). Borderline students spend up to a year in the 
courses getting into shape for university. The courses also worked on 
teaching young, poor Maori (not necessarily Ngai Tahu) how to achieve. 
"We cleaned them up, got them ready, then we put them into varsity," 
says Tau.

"We had students in high schools with Cs and Ds. Our job was to get them 
to varsity. We were reasonable about it; they wouldn't necessarily be A
students. I got my D students; if they went to varsity they were C 
students, B minus, even B plus, which is good enough for us. Which is 
better than a quota system."

Since 2000, the partnership has spent $1.5m on supporting 237 students, 
who are now beginning to graduate at southern universities and CPIT, one 
even completing a business degree at a Danish university.

So Huia McGlinchey, for example, came from Oamaru with high school 
grades not good enough for university. She spent a year in the CPIT 
foundation course, entered Lincoln University and will finish her degree 
in sociology and Maori at Canterbury this semester. She hopes to go to 
Japan and teach English as a second language.

The point Brash missed is that privilege in education, if it exists at 
all, can only get students into universities and colleges - it cannot 
get them through.

Meanwhile, according to Tau, one university is pressing Ngai Tahu to 
become their varsity of choice. Three private schools have put the same
proposition. That is understandable: Ngai Tahu have the funds, and the
schools and university need their business.

But note the switch.

Brash implies that Maori are using privilege unfairly to win tertiary

But Ngai Tahu have become an institution of patronage rather than vice
versa. The iwi are not asking schools and universities for favours. It's 
the other way round: they're the ones being asked for the favours. Ngai 
Tahu have even funded a four-year research post in Victoria University's 
law faculty.

"We wouldn't tolerate privilege," says Tau. "I wouldn't have my students
labelled with it

"Ngai Tahu parents have the same concerns as other New Zealanders about
education. The most important thing to them is that their children are
welcome and that they do well.

"It would be good if children were able to do Maori and cultural things 
in the school as well as every other course, as opposed to my 
generation's education; we had to do Maori by correspondence. So one of 
the plans we have is to have every Ngai Tahu child multilingual.

"But no one ever said it had to be Maori. It's their choice. We'd expect 
our own children to have a European language and an Asian language - 
some sort of mixture as well as English and Maori."

His four children are going to a bilingual school at Tuahiwi, his own
village. Later? "I don't know. Could be a private education if the local
state system is not doing it. I'm not sure that the secondary school 
system is any good."

But Tau has more global ambitions. He talks of Maori students sitting
Cambridge examinations rather than national ones, an option offered by, 
say, Auckland Grammar. Or bypassing New Zealand universities if they 
don't meet the students' needs: Oxford or Cambridge, he muses, might be 
better options.

Quotas, Tau believes, serve a liberal agenda rather than a Maori one.

"To some extent they work against Maori. I hate good Maori students
sidelined into things Maori, or sidelined into the quota system when 
they could get there under their own steam."

What's the difference between the liberal agenda and the Maori one?

"Liberals still see Maori as an indigenous person who needs to be saved 
by historic restitution of their old claims.

"Years ago, when Ngai Tahu were going through the claims process,
intellectual communities loved us because we were the indigenous people.

"But when the claim was settled we became a rottweiler that no one 
wanted to know.

"The most successful groups dealing with Ngai Tahu are the ones who 
approach us in a corporate way without this smokescreen of liberal 
agenda. We find it very easy to do business with them, rather than us 
getting tied into the politics of liberalism."

On the conference room walls are the tribe's covenant, containing its
settlement with the Crown - concluded under a National-led government -
alongside the Crown's apology. The apology was critical, says Tau.

"It wouldn't count unless it removed that emotional grievance the people
had. The settlement wouldn't work properly unless you put it on a moral
foundation as well."

Tau, who says he helped pen the apology, seems comfortable with Brash's
exasperation over what the National leader sees as an entrenched Treaty
grievance industry: "I wanted to stop the nonsense of our lot coming 
back and saying the Crown did not act in good faith. They did act in 
good faith.  They apologised and we accepted.

"People love their past, but what they really love is to hold a grudge. 
The past is like a graveyard to the future. The settlement we got was 
not going to address every historical grievance that we had, because it 
was impossible. What really mattered was to act in good faith.

"The apology removed the historic grudge. Once you accepted it, you 
accepted these things have happened, you can't do anything about it, but 
the package the Crown gave you was there for you to establish a future."

The government has spent $675m on Treaty settlements so far. About
three-quarters of the claims before the Waitangi Tribunal have been 
settled or are under negotiation, although it will be at least a decade 
before every iwi's case is resolved. Tau advises a realistic approach.

"People are trapped by the cobwebs of the past. You get an agreement. 
That's realpolitik, I think.

"Once you get to the end of the rainbow and you get your pot of gold, 
what do you do? You get a life. You become like everyone else. The thing 
about the settlement of the claim is that it makes you like every other 
New Zealander. You don't have any moral high ground. You're equivalent 
to everyone else. So you get a life and you get on with it."

Is there any difference, in fact, between Ngai Tahu and any business

The shareholders, says Tau: "Our big strength is that our shareholder
doesn't die. It allows us to plan strategically long-term and not take 
the short-term gains that the corporations tend to go for.

"The challenge for us is to synthesise the traditional tribal values 
with corporate capitalist values. That tension is always going to exist 
and we'll have to manage it.

"And we have to generate wealth and distribute it. After all the big 
ideas, the real thing about us is that we have to care for our people.

"The education fund is one thing, but we also have responsibilities to 
the communities. [Ngai Tahu have 33,000 members; last year they 
distributed $16.4m for social and cultural development.]

"One of the big challenges for us will be to get the village rununga to 
a position where they can manage their own affairs and generate their 
own wealth.

"So, while we're going for global, the challenge for us is also to 
develop the rural areas.

"In my wildest dreams, the tribe in 50 years should be a global 
corporate."  Back in Christchurch, however, Ngai Tahu merely plan to 
become the dominant economic force in the South Island.

There's a distinction here. The Treaty conferred property rights on iwi. 
But without a tribe you're just another Maori on the street, out in the 

Tau distinguishes between wealth generated through property rights and 
its distribution based on race.

"Distributing money to particular sections of society based on ethnicity 
is just disastrous. You're just funnelling money down ethnic holes."

So does he, in fact, have an argument with Brash?

"Brash didn't provide any leadership on development. If you go through 
his list of gripes, his answer is no different from Labour Party policy, 
which is distribute money on the basis of ethnicity. He was saying we've 
got to put more money into education. That's already what's happening. 
Never-ending scholarships do not develop Maori, never-ending 
distribution of wealth to ethnic groups doesn't solve development."

Removing references to the Treaty from legislation?

"I got uneasy about that because the Treaty is about property rights. 
Tribal groups, hapu and even whanau were promised property.

"What worries me is the confusion between Treaty rights and ethnicity
issues. What people tend to do is make an ethnic issue. For example, 
should there be Maori representation on local councils? That was a bad 
move from the start. If there's representation on the council, it should 
be from groups that have property rights, which are the tribal groups. 
Once you make it a Maori thing, then it's an ethnic right.

"You can understand a Treaty right on a council, because our people have
lots of reserves and interests and there's a degree of local sovereignty
guaranteed to us by the Treaty. There's no case to argue on a race 
right, that is to have two Maoris on a council or whatever. It gets you 
into all sorts of arguments and they're not good arguments."

Maori seats?

"I'd get rid of them. They don't do anything. They don't achieve anything."

As the interview ends, Tau asks: "Don't make me out to be a raging

Would he be worried about that?

"I'm a conservative," he says. "I think Keith Holyoake [the former Prime
Minister] was right. One day we're all going to be suntanned Kiwis."

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